CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - The U.S. debut of Jerwin Ancajas ended in the fashion his American journey began: with a Filipino immersion.
He trained at the famous Wild Card Gym in L.A. and met Freddie Roach, the trainer of his fellow countryman and inspiration Manny Pacquiao, at the trip's start. At the meet-and-greet event in Corpus Christi earlier this week, Ancajas was received warmly by elated Filipino fans ahead of his bout - signing autographs and taking pictures.
And after a KO victory over Mexico's Israel Gonzalez in the co-feature of the Top Rank on ESPN card to defend his IBF junior bantamweight world title, Ancajas made his way around the ring - clenching his fist and waving the Philippines' flag toward the crowd. The loud cheers from the Filipino contingent had completely drowned out chants of "Mexico!" by the end.
The kid from Cavite City, Cavite looked comfortable on foreign soil.
"Jerwin is going to be a fan favorite not just in the United States, but worldwide," Top Rank CEO Bob Arum said following the fight.
Ancajas (29-1-1, 20 KO's) is a talent - a super flyweight champion who's endorsed by his idol Pacquiao. Saturday marked the southpaw's official introduction to the U.S. market, his first fight of a multi-bout TR deal. But to some Filipino-Americans who were already familiar with Ancajas ahead of the Gonzalez fight, they feel that they can relate to him because of the struggles he overcame.
It's well-documented: he grew up poor without his mother in his life. Boxing gave him a way out and a free education.
R.J. Santos, 33, a Filipino-American from Chicago - a lifelong boxing fan - said his family can identify. He pointed to the example of his aunt who carved out a life on her own in Chicago after immigrating from the Philippines.
"With fighters coming from the Philippines, it's usually a fight out of poverty," Santos said. "To watch that in sport is what really gives us a connection. It's not only so much that (the boxer is) Filipino, but he's a Filipino that's gone through what family has gone through. That's where the connection lies."
Ancajas will need more than his rags-to-riches storyline - similar to Pacquiao - to reach long term success. Wins against top-notch competition are critical. But the 26-year-old has looked legitimate so far.
On his second day in Corpus Christi, the Filipino community in Corpus Christi took him out to dinner downtown.
Ancajas really enjoyed it, said Manila Bulletin reporter Nick Giongco. He was all smiles.
He felt at home.
"Boxing is making some noise in the Philippines because of Pacquiao and other world contenders who are set to fight for world titles," Giongco added. "Time was when not even one media entity would cover a Filipino boxer's exploits because it was assumed that he would lose. Now a Filipino boxer is seen as legitimate world title contender. Interest in boxing is high most especially when that boxer is winning."
There were five Filipino news outlets on hand for Ancajas' bout Saturday.
"Among the top boxers in the Philippines (other than Pacquiao), Ancajas is No. 1 because of his style. While he is different from Pacquiao, he has the ring smarts and the power to become big," Giongco said.
"To see someone carrying the flag of my parent's homeland and caring the hopes and dreams of millions (is special)," Santos said. "Whether he can do it like Manny Pacquiao could, you don't know that - we don't know that yet. But the hope is that being Filipino, he knows he has a whole nation backing him up."