By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
With the amount of International, Intercontinental, Silver and other rather spurious fringe belts available these days the sanctioning bodies rankings can often look distorted with boxers rated on wins over handpicked opponents to claim one of these minor trinkets rather than actual ability or victories against quality fighters.
This can lead to champions being forced to make mandatory defenses which leaves fans groaning or saying who? In regards to the mandatory challenger. There will be no such feelings at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California this Saturday night as Jerwin Ancajas makes the 5th defense of his IBF super flyweight strap against mandatory contender Jonas Sultan but this goes way beyond a mandatory and is a significant historical occasion for Filipino boxing.
The clash between Ancajas and Sultan is the first all Filipino world title tussle for 93 years with the last one coming when reigning flyweight kin Pancho Villa took on Clever Sencio in Manila back in 1925. Being from the UK this statistic is quite frankly mind boggling as all British world title contests are an essential bedrock of the boxing business and it’s hard to imagine the sport being anywhere near as relevant without them.
It’s hard to fathom why all Filipino bouts are such a taboo for a section of the boxing community and as participation has fallen and coverage of the sport has decreased the attitudes of the sceptics need to change not only at the world stage but at domestic level where solid matchups are crucial if a fighter is to properly develop and move up the ladder. This is a view shared by respected writer Ryan Songalia who told me through direct message on twitter, “I hope it does change attitudes about Filipino vs. Filipino fights. “Competition breeds prosperity, and only through vetting the top prospects and contenders domestically can the Philippines ensure the best fighters going to the world stage are the best they have to offer.” “The typical refrain used by regressive thinking observers is “the Philippines only has a small amount of world class fighters and they shouldn’t fight each other.” “That is both an insult to the fighters in the Philippines and wildly inaccurate.” “There is a ton of good talent in the Philippines now who aren’t getting opportunities, and by strong domestic competition that will be demonstrated.”
2018 has actually gotten off to a great start for boxing in the Philippines with a number of upset wins including Alvin Lagumbay’s stunning second round KO of Keita Obara in Japan and an exciting crop of youngsters such as Romero Duno, Reymart Gaballo, Jhack Tepora and Mark Anthony Barriga who are leading the charge as the next generation of talent from the country. The introduction of ESPN5 has also been a timely injection of much needed extra coverage and the likes of Ancajas and Barriga have already hugely benefitted from the extra profile boost.
As for the fight itself neither man were privy to a privileged upbringing and both have had to earn their opportunities in their professional careers.
Both are the same age at 26 with Ancajas enjoying a more notable amateur career than his countrymen.
Ancajas lost a majority 10 round decision to Mark Anthony Geraldo in March 2012 but rebounded and found himself appearing on a couple of the Top Rank voyages in Macao. His big break came in September 2016 when he got home advantage against McJoe Arroyo for the IBF super flyweight crown. Ancajas grabbed the opportunity with both hands, dropping and completely outworking the Puerto Rican on the way to a unanimous decision. Unfortunately the bout received no TV coverage at all with a Rappler facebook live stream the only avenue to view the contest and a paltry purse was Ancajas financial reward but he now had a bargaining chip to play with going forward.
The champion then went on the road, fighting in Macao, Australia and Northern Ireland stopping Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, Teiru Kinoshita and Jamie Conlan in the process. It was after the victory over Conlan that Ancajas signed a promotional deal with Top Rank with his first bout for the US outfit coming in Texas in February as he saw off Israel Gonzalez in 10 rounds.
Sultan’s record of 14-3 9 Kos doesn’t look the most flattering but the ALA Gym fighter has been a working progress whilst learning on the job given his limited amateur career. After 2 early split decision defeats in 6 rounder’s Sultan’s first win of note came against Rene Dacquel for the national super flyweight title in July 2015 via unanimous decision. A mini set back then occurred 4 months later as on just a weeks’ notice Sultan lost a unanimous 10 round points verdict to Go Onaga in Japan
A second trip to the land of the rising sun in March 2016 proved far more fruitful as Tatsuya Ikemizu was drilled in 2 rounds. South African Makazole Tete received the same treatment on home soil in December 2016 and by now Sultan was beginning to gain some real momentum. Sultan impressively took out forma flyweight champion Sonny Boy Jaro in 8 rounds last May and was inching himself up the IBF rankings.
His acid test came in September 2017 when he squared off against Johnriel Casimero in a final IBF eliminator. Sultan was an underdog going in but fought a really smart fight, not allowing Casimero to set himself and it was he who took the unanimous decision to set up this historic clash with Ancajas.
There has been no animosity during the build up and any sort of friction is highly unlikely before the first bell with both men respectful of the others ability but make no mistake both are acutely aware of the added significance of a contest that goes way beyond a normal world title fight.
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