It’s been a week to remember for Filipino boxing in America.
With Manny Pacquiao commencing his cross-country tour to promote his next fight along with nationally-televised knockouts in San Francisco and Las Vegas from the powerful hands of Mercito Gesta and Nonito Donaire respectively, the attention has suddenly focused on Pinoy pugilists.
Now it’s WBO super bantamweight champion Ana “The Hurricane” Julaton’s turn to continue this momentum when she defends her title against Franchesca “The Chosen One” Alcanter, 18-9-1 (9), this Friday at the Craneway Pavilion in Point Richmond, Calif.
“The support from the Philippines overseas as well as here in the states has been amazing,” said Julaton, 7-2-1 (1), who grew up just across the Bay Bridge in Daly City. “Even back in my amateur days, I had great support from the Filipino community and people overall in the Bay Area. I’m just thankful that people are believing in my dreams and I want to dedicate this fight to them.”
The particulars behind the rest of the fight card are unique. Filipino-Hawaiian bantamweight Bruno Escalante takes on Floyd Smith; the action will be called by former world title challenger Glenn Donaire and Examiner.com’s Dennis “dSource” Guillermo.
In addition, the crowd will be treated to three kickboxing bouts. There will also be musical performances from such artists as American Idol semi-finalist Jose “Sway” Penala and rapper Nump Trump, who penned Nonito Donaire’s ring walk theme last Saturday.
“I’ve promoted a few hybrid events before but to me this is the first time that all ages can see an event of world championship boxing. At the same time, they can see the best in hip-hop and R&B music that’s geared toward the Filipino-American community, which is beautiful for our audience,” said Christian Printup of CP Presents, the former Director of Entertainment at the Tachi Palace.
Orion Sports Management in association with 37 Entertainment, 454 Life Entertainment, and CP Presents will promote the event that is being billed as a Sports & Music Expo.
“We wanted to provide a complete package of entertainment to fans of all backgrounds,” said 37 Entertainment’s Brandon Cruz. “We wanted to solidify the boxing card with entertainment like with A.J. and Sway to appeal not just to the average boxing fan but to families who love Ana’s family values as well.”
The show will be televised by MYX TV in the U.S., TV-5 in the Philippines, and through online pay-per-view at thehurricanereturns.com for $9.95.
“We are expecting a full house of about 4,000 at Craneway,” said Cruz. “We’ll be televised overseas but 454 [Life Entertainment] has a huge fan base in Australia, Japan, and Canada, so those who don’t get MYX or TV-5 will get a chance to watch it online as well. And plus, the online feed will cover the entire four-hour event, while the television feed will only cover two hours of fights and entertainment.”
According to adviser Angelo Reyes, a total of 13 million viewers are expected to tune in worldwide, a staggering number for a women’s boxing bout. Such numbers have become commonplace for Julaton in the Philippines, where her bouts regularly top the Nielsen ratings; she was given a ticker tape parade in Manila after her last win.
Then again, it could be argued that Julaton’s matinee good looks and charismatic demeanor (and not her actual skills in the ring) are the driving force behind such crossover appeal. However, having earned the respect of trainer Freddie Roach and enduring intense sparring sessions at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood with the likes of former WBC light flyweight champion Rodel Mayol tell otherwise.
“Her conditioning has improved since our last camp,” Roach detected, referring to Julaton’s split decision win over Maria Elena Villalobos last June. “Sparring with Mayol every other day, who’s a higher quality sparring partner than most female sparring partners, has also helped push her. She’s throwing more combinations and she’s letting her hands go a lot freer.”
When the word “Filipino” is paired with the word “star,” it is always inevitable to compare someone to Pacquiao for the uncanny impact he has on the Filipino people. Printup sees a few similarities as well as distinctions between the two as far as the reasons behind their fans’ fervent devotion.
“When you meet or see Ana, you see that she has a good heart,” said Printup. “You have a good person with talent and she uses her talent as a way to bring people together and that’s similar to what Manny does.
“Some people might like her for her attitude or because she’s attractive but also, it’s very empowering for female athletes who need a stage to perform. Some people have that intangiblethat sparkand she has that charisma that a lot of athletes don’t.”
“I’m super excited about the whole card. Just to have a female fighter who’s in the spotlight is encouraging,” added Chris Luu, CEO of 454 Life Entertainment. “She’s the type of fighter who even if you don’t know anything about boxing, you’ll love her story enough to watch her fight.”
This Friday’s title defense presents a challenge in the size of Alcanter, a regular junior lightweight who will be boiling down two weight classes for the bout. In her last fight against WBC featherweight titlist and female pound-for-pounder Ina Menzer of Germany, the Kansas City product was able to land her right cross in spurts and last the distance in a decision loss.
“Franchesca is a naturally bigger, stronger, more physically imposing woman than Ana,” said Printup, who is also serving as matchmaker. “Now coming down to 122, she’s always been on the cusp of a championship. She went the full ten rounds with Menzer and showed flashes. This could be her last chance and she’ll be right there waiting to take that title on Friday.”
However, Team Julaton’s advantages center around Roach, who once worked with Alcanter and even filmed some instructional videos with her for Title Boxing. The esteemed trainer feels that his experience with “The Chosen One” has allowed him to formulate an effective game plan for Friday.
“We have to take away [Alcanter’s] favorite punch in the right hand,” warned Roach. “We’ve been working on movement and staying away from her power.
“Camp has been extremely tough,” said Julaton. “You have to be disciplined and be able to think while you’re in the ring to execute a Freddie Roach game plan effectively but I’ve been working hard, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
While a few years ago, Julaton could be duly described as raw in the early stages of her pro career, one look at her sparring with Mayol would paint the picture of a veteran fighter more than holding her own in the squared circle.
“It’s been great working with a world champion like Rodel, who makes things look so effortlessly, especially on the inside,” said Julaton. “He’s definitely helped me become a better fighter because the sparring is so tough.”
Despite being one of Roach’s three current world champions at Wild Card (the others being Pacquiao and Amir Khan), Julaton has never shied away from learning from her fellow fighters in the gym.
“One thing I learned in watching Shawn Porter was how he bends the right knee while he jabs to avoid right hands,” she analyzed. “Of course, Alcanter has a good right hand, so I’ve been working with Freddie on how to neutralize that through other ways as well.”
Roach, a disciple of the legendary Eddie Futch, has touted the virtues of cutting off the ring and cornering one’s prey.
“We’re looking at winning the decision,” predicted Roach, “and if the knockout comes, we’ll go for it.”
Since dropping a decision to Canadian Lisa Brown last March, stringing together a second consecutive win will allow Julaton to move toward bigger things at 122 pounds, whether it’s a rematch with Brown or other opportunities like WBC interim champ Jackie Nava of Mexico.
“I can see her fighting as high as 130 [pounds],” opined Roach. “She’s making 122 now but Manny Pacquiao was growing and growing into higher weight classes. Ana could do it too in time.”
Either way, negotiations have begun with the three major Filipino television networks for her to fight next in either April or May in the Philippines, where she will undoubtedly receive a queen’s welcome from a fan base that appreciates the struggles in one’s journey just as much as the results themselves.
“We’re expecting some big things in 2011,” said Reyes. “She is well-received in the Philippines and we would love to do our next show there to show our appreciation for the Filipino fans.”
There is no doubt that women’s boxing has flourished internationally, from the Philippines all the way to Germany and Argentina. Of course, the question remains whether Julaton can make it as a mainstream star here in America.
“I hope she does,” said Roach. “The top promoters aren’t using the girls but with Bob Arum bringing Christy Martin on a big show recently, maybe in the future, we can bring Ana on a bigger network.”
But first, there is Julaton’s homecoming. Well aware of the pressures and distractions that accompany fighting within proximity to her old stomping grounds, she has confronted such issues with the same smile and infectious attitude that has made her a staple with the locals on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area’s “Chronicle Live.”
“I’m definitely proud to be part of the Bay Area,” said Julaton. “I feel like a lot of my success has been being able to share my everyday life with people everyone out here. For me to be able to bring the fight here is something I’ll always cherish, so I definitely want to represent the Bay Area as well as I can this Friday.”