Jerwin Ancajas is hardly the first hard-luck kid to find salvation through boxing. He is, however, one of those elite few fighters to fight his way to the very top of the sport and manage to stay there.
Growing up poor in Panabo City in the Philippines, son to a modest day laborer and the youngest of three children, Ancajas fell in love with the hard-work, do-or-die world of fighting at nine years of age and never looked back. At 15, he was discovered by his hero and fellow Filipino, Manny Pacquiao and would eventually be signed to the legend’s promotional company, MP Promotions. As things would turn out, he’d become MP Promotions’ first world champ in 2016 when he upset defending IBF junior bantamweight champ and former Olympian McJoe Arroyo via unanimous decision.
Six years and nine defenses later, the now-30-year-old Ancajas is an established entity and one of the principal players in the deep and competitive 115 lb. class.
Looking to make the tenth defense of his title this Saturday against the tough and undefeated Argentine, Fernando Martinez, “Pretty Boy” has walked through that minefield of being called “The Next Manny Pacquiao” and has made his own name in the sport. Still, it’s impossible to be a boxing Filipino and not fall into the gravitational pull of Pacquiao’s legendary, Hero-of-a-Nation status.
But to this day, Ancajas carries, close to his heart, a piece of sound advice given to him by the Filipino icon– a piece of advice that has kept him grounded and focused on the hard work needed to stay on top of the fight game.
“(Pacquiao) simply told me to be humble,” Ancajas told writer Conan Altatis in 2018. “(Pacquiao told me) that there is no way to reach the top if you are not humble.”
That humble mindset kept him steady on the rise to the top and modest even once he had the privilege of carrying around a shiny world title belt.
“I can follow his examples but I cannot become him,” Ancajas affirmed, referring to Pacquiao.
He would double-down on this philosophy of humility in an ESPN interview.
“It’s not that I don’t want to be compared to sir Manny because he has been my inspiration. But it’s such a big label because he’s at a different level. It’s hard to be compared to a legend. Even if I don’t match his success, I’ll be happy.”
Ancajas has worked his way into becoming his own man. The herky-jerky, all-frenetic energy Pacquiao style that clearly influenced him in his formative years as a fighter has given way to a cooler, more clinical, and more nuanced mindset in the ring. The flashes of flair are still there, but they’re now tempered by a more classic skill set.
As one of boxing’s longest-reigning world champions, this development has clearly worked for him and his long-time trainer Joven Jimemez, whose bond with Ancajas has been a testament to the virtue of loyalty and definitely deserves its own article.
Ancajas has long been eyeballing high-profile clashes with the other established names in the junior bantamweight division such as Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. A planned unification bout with WBO titlist Kazuto Ioka was set to happen this past New Year’s Eve, but ultimately scrapped due to COVID-19 restritctions in Ioka’s native Japan. A victory over any of the other stars in the division would catapult him to next-level stardom and bring along the next-level money to go along with that boost in acclaim.
But don’t count on next-level success and next-level money changing the man.
“What people see is who Jerwin is. I don’t want to change, I just like keeping things simple,” Ancajas told ESPN in 2018.
“We can’t brag because everything we have is just borrowed from God.”