Underdog champ Melvin Jerusalem fights to give family a better life
Melvin Jerusalem may have already won a world championship, but the 29-year-old from Bukidnon province in the Philippines still has lots of unfinished business.
Jerusalem (20-2, 12 knockouts) will make the first defense of the WBO strawweight title this Saturday against mandatory challenger Oscar Collazo. The venue – Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif. – will be indoors, but that hasn’t stopped Jerusalem from worrying about the rain. Not the rain that could fall on his own his head, but the rain that often falls over his mother, Miraluna, as she works.
Jerusalem finds motivation in, among other things, making enough money to allow his mother to retire from her job harvesting pineapples on the Del Monte Plantation in their hometown of Manolo Fortich.
“It’s raining day and night, [but still] she works,” says Jerusalem, who is rated no. 3 by The Ring at 105 pounds. “I’ll just give her a business.”
Jerusalem, the third of six children, remembers the difficult sacrifices he and his family had to make. He was just ten years old when he was put to work on his his father Bienvenido’s corn farm, digging up land in the mountains to help the family out. Still, there were many nights they went to bed hungry.
He still has to return home to repair their family’s home, which had fallen into disrepair after his father died seven years ago.
“I have experienced a lot,” Jerusalem says.
Those goals become more attainable if he beats Collazo (6-0, 4 KOs), a southpaw from Villalba, Puerto Rico. Collazo, a 26-year-old southpaw, has been pro for just three years but was a standout amateur, winning gold at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
Collazo has moved quickly as a professional, defeating former titleholder Vic Saludar by decision last July before knocking out Yudel Reyes in five rounds to become the mandatory challenger.
“He is a good boxer and his style is like an amateur. He fights just in front of you but he’s fast. He is not a fighter,” said Jerusalem of Collazo.
Head trainer Michael Domingo, who has worked with Jerusalem for nine years, thinks the matchup is a good one stylistically for Jerusalem.
“It is good for Melvin because the style of Collazo is going inside, Melvin is an in and out boxer. There’s a big chance for Melvin to win,” said Domingo, who fought 63 times professionally before settling into a role as a trainer in Cebu City, Philippines.
Jerusalem had a meaningful amateur career of his own. After being introduced to the sport at age 13 by his older brother and a friend. He had over 100 amateur fights, earning a bronze and a silver at the Philippine National Games before turning professional in 2014. He turned pro in 2014, signing with ALA Promotions, and got his first title shot in 2017, giving then-WBC titleholder Wanheng Menayothin one of his toughest fights before losing a unanimous decision in Thailand. Any momentum from that fight was squandered when he lost a decision in his next fight, a listless performance against compatriot Joey Canoy.
“He lost to Canoy because he had a lot of problems,” said Domingo. “Afterwards I talked to him, encouraged him to come back stronger. That’s when he focused in training.” Domingo adds that Canoy has been instrumental to Jerusalem’s preparations for this fight, sparring with him to replicate Collazo’s tendencies.
Since then, Jerusalem has won nine straight and signed with ZIP Sanman Boxing, which is comprised of promoter Jim Claude Manangquil of Sanman Promotions and managers Nobuyuki and Mhavic Matsuura.
With his new team in tow, Jerusalem pulled off his championship win, a second round knockout of Masataka Taniguchi, this past January. A big underdog heading to Osaka, Japan, Jerusalem dropped Taniguchi with a single right hand, causing Taniguchi to fall three times before the referee stopped the fight. The win was lauded in the Philippines, as it ended a months-long drought during which the country didn’t have a single world champion.
This Saturday’s fight will be Jerusalem’s first in the United States. He arrived in the country a week ago, and did some light training at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, and will be part of a Golden Boy Promotions show which will be streamed live on DAZN.
“I’m so very happy to fight here in America. It’s a big opportunity for me. It’s my dream to fight here,” said Jerusalem.
Despite winning the title in his last bout, Jerusalem didn’t get the opportunity for an optional defense, and instead was mandated to face Collazo, who is promoted by Golden Boy and Miguel Cotto Promotions.
Jerusalem says his goal is to try to unify the other belts at 105 pounds. The division is still led by Knockout CP Freshmart, the unbeaten Thai who has made 11 title defenses since winning the title in 2016. There’s also Petchmanee CP Freshmart, another Thai who holds the WBC belt, and IBF titleholder Daniel Valladares of Mexico.
First, he has to get past Collazo, who is rated no. 10 by The Ring at 105 pounds. Jerusalem is once again fighting against the odds, with DraftKings listing Collazo as a -390 favorite and Jerusalem a +280 underdog.
If he upsets the odds again, Jerusalem could be in line for big opportunities.
“There will be bigger fights ahead in the future,” said Manangquil. “He told us that he wants to fight the other champions and collect all the belts after this. It will be very big for him to defend in the U.S. against a guy that Golden Boy is trying to push. I think that Melvin will defend his title and after that we look forward to unifying all the belts.”
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].