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Jerwin Ancajas is out to make his case for unification showdown with Juan Estrada

Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank
30
Oct

Heading into his eighth title defense, Jerwin Ancajas is the sixth longest reigning current world titleholder at just over three years with the IBF junior bantamweight belt. It’s a metric that tells some things, but not everything. For every Israel Gonzalez or Jamie Conlan performance, there’s been an outing like he had against Jonas Sultan or Alejandro Santiago that has slowed his momentum.

“My mindset is always to be hungry. If you relax, you’re gonna lose,” said Ancajas (31-1-2, 21 knockouts), with a matter of fact inflection that hints of a lesson learned hard.

He’s still in search of that defining fight which could establish him as more than just a fan favorite with a belt. That won’t come until he gets a shot at Juan Francisco Estrada, The Ring champion at 115 pounds who is rated no. 8 on the pound for pound list. But he could strengthen his position for that fight on Saturday, Nov. 2 when he faces Jonathan Rodriguez (21-1, 15 KOs) at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif.

The fight will be shown live on ESPN (10:30 p.m. ET) as the co-feature to the Miguel Berchelt vs. Jason Sosa junior lightweight title fight, though the card has gotten less attention than the Canelo Alvarez vs. Sergey Kovalev fight on DAZN which will be aired simultaneously.



On paper, at least, Rodriguez figures to be closer in style to the Gonzalezes and Conlans of Ancajas’ recent opposition, an aggressive Mexican fighter from San Luis Potosi who is making his U.S. debut. The lanky 24-year-old isn’t hard to find, and has a tendency to stand straight up while winging his punches. 

Rodriguez’s biggest win came in his last fight, this past June, when he stopped former title challenger Felipe Orucuta in ten rounds. That win was overshadowed by the peril Orucuta was in afterwards. Surgery was performed to remove a blood clot from Orucuta’s brain, and he remained hospitalized for nearly two months.

“I saw his fights on Youtube. His style is very simple but he has a Mexican fighter’s heart. He’s a Mexican warrior,” said Ancajas, 27, of Panabo City, Philippines. Ancajas, who speaks the Filipino languages Visayan and Tagalog, exhibited his improvement in English during a 15-minute interview conducted exclusively in his third language, though he sucked his teeth at times while searching for the word he was looking for.

“He’s no pushover by any means,” said Sean Gibbons, matchmaker for MP Promotions, of Rodriguez. “Styles make fights and I think he’s the right guy, he’s gonna come to Jerwin, make Jerwin work, he’s gonna be very aggressive, very tough, very game. He’s a little basic in the sense that he’s not herky jerky like an Alejandro Santiago, so I really think it’ll complement each other.”

To prepare, Ancajas started out his training at his Survival Camp compound in Cavite province in the Philippines before relocating to the Naval Station San Miguel, where he says he spent nearly three months. Ancajas is a reservist in the Philippine Navy and was promoted to Senior Chief Petty Officer in August. Behind the gates of the naval base, Ancajas says he was able to get away from the distractions, jogging with his fellow service members, and playing golf, basketball and swimming laps in the pool to relax on the 1,737 acre compound.

Seven sparring partners, fighters like John Mark Alimane (6-1, 4 KOs) and Angelo Beltran (5-0, 4 knockouts), made the trip with him from Survival Camp to Zambales province, said trainer/manager Joven Jimenez.

Ancajas has also switched nutritionists to Jeaneth Aro, who he credits with helping him get in better conditioning for his last fight in May, when he pummeled mandatory challenger Ryuichi Funai over six rounds before the ringside doctor stopped the fight.

“I want to prove that every fight I’m upgrading, always looking at the mistakes I made,” said Ancajas.

Ancajas will need a performance like he had against Funai to get people talking about a showdown with Estrada (40-3, 27 KOs), who outboxed Srisaket Sor Rungvisai to become the  boss of the division. Ancajas says his skill and experience has put him on the level with all of the titleholders in the division, and that he feels ready to fight Estrada already.

“I want Estrada because he’s the number one in our category,” said Ancajas, before adding, “but we don’t underestimate Rodriguez.”

“This is Jerwin’s ticket to a unification fight. That’s why he needs to be more aggressive and show more skills,” said Jimenez. “This opportunity will never come again if he will not do good.”

Jimenez, who took over Ancajas’ career when he was a 3-0 prospect, says the southpaw Ancajas has a style that would be tough for Estrada to deal with.

“Jerwin can box, he can go inside and he’s perfect on going outside. I think Jerwin has a lot to bring to the table,” said Jimenez.

Though Ancajas is with Top Rank and fights on ESPN, and Estrada is with Matchroom Boxing and Zanfer Promotions and fights on DAZN, Gibbons thinks something can be worked out to bring the two fighters together, pointing out that Top Rank and Matchroom worked together to make the Jose Ramirez vs. Maurice Hooker junior welterweight unification in July.

“It’s Jerwin Ancajas, it’s not like he’s the flagship of ESPN, it’s not like they’re gonna miss him. Or if Estrada came to ESPN, it’s not like DAZN is gonna lose anything,” said Gibbons.

Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected]

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