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The Eyes of the Hurricane 

She's been called the female Manny Pacquiao. But can Ana Julaton make people care about women's boxing?

Wednesday, Mar 10 2010

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Reyes disagrees — just look at the popularity of mixed martial arts, in which women wrestle and punch each other to the ground, regularly aired on Showtime Sports. And that's a young sport compared to boxing, he says: "Ana would be happy to show how easy it is to beat" any female mixed martial arts competitor.

Industry insiders say some boxing promoters believe the only women who belong in the ring wear bikinis and hold a round card. "They don't want girls that act very — the best word is 'dykey,' and I'm not saying that in a derogatory manner," says Butch Gottlieb, a World Boxing Federation commissioner who manages several women boxers. "They want girls who look like girls who can fight."

In such a milieu, it's no surprise that some have used their sexuality to get ahead. The sport's resident sex kitten, Mia St. John, is probably less known for her 45 professional wins than for posing for Playboy, holding her boxing gloves over her breasts. Julaton draws the line at that (though she says posing in a bikini for Sports Illustrated "would be instrumental in promoting women's sports"), but it's no coincidence that the woman who prefers sweats for everyday wear shows up for press appearances in heels and lipstick.

"For the longest time, female boxers had the image of being too tough or too masculine," she says. "Now a lot of the female boxers have longer hair and will wear the swimsuits" to weigh-ins. "I think that's something that can interest the public."

The men in the industry have certainly taken notice. "Ana is really good-looking," says Ryan Wissow, the president of the Women's International Boxing Association (WIBA). "I have a thing for Asian girls." Yet Julaton sees herself more in the vein of De La Hoya, a great fighter who just happens to be attractive.

The formula seems to be working. Julaton is starting to rack up the trappings of a bona fide pro: her own personal rap song for her ring entrance, featuring the lyrics "She the total package, far from ordinary/Step in the ring, get sent to the mortuary"; an emblem, created by a Filipino-American clothing brand and emblazoned on all her gear; billboards in the Bayview and Potrero Hill; a contract with a Philippine TV network to air her matches; and a constant stream of free protein bars and sports drinks from wannabe sponsors arriving at the gym. While the deals may not be accompanied by the mainstream name recognition for male boxers who've won two world titles, Julaton counts them as a victory against the boxing establishment. "None of this was supposed to happen," she says.

Arriving for the ESPN shoot, Julaton's parents plunked down on a couch to watch their daughter shadowbox for the cameras, all intensity and focus and "Zsst!" sound effects as if her jabs were delivered by the tail of a stingray.

"That's my little girl," said her father, Cesar, a gentle, unassuming man with a light black mustache. For the last 34 years, he has clocked eight hours a day behind the Safeway meat counter so his two children could go to college and get ahead. His son, also named Cesar, will be graduating with an engineering degree from UC Berkeley this spring. He thought Ana would make a good teacher. "I never expected this," he said. "I thought she'd just grow up and be a normal girl. Not that she's not normal. I just didn't expect this."

Her mother, Amelia, is an elegant and vivacious woman who deals cards at Artichoke Joe's Casino in San Bruno and likes to assure reporters that her daughter is very feminine: "Even me, when I see her I don't think she's a boxer." While watching Julaton throw punches, she opened her eyes so wide it's hard to tell whether she was excited or frightened. When Julaton stepped down from the ring, Amelia gave her a hug: "That was goooood! Oh my gosh! That was good!" Cesar added, "You look sharp, sweetheart."

If the Hurricane's life were to someday be a movie, the montage of her early years would go something like this: Growing up in a thoroughly Americanized household in the Bayview and Daly City, Julaton felt American, not particularly Filipina. At El Camino High, she sat idly as friends chatted in Tagalog, a language she never learned; she preferred to wear baggy hip-hop clothes and talk slang to African-American classmates in the hallway.

But she did have one Asian connection: her love for Bruce Lee. When Cesar enrolled himself and her younger brother in tae kwon do classes, Ana asked if she could take lessons, too. Throughout her childhood, as soon as Cesar got home from work, the three would either go to class or work out in the garage.

Instead of fulfilling her parents' wish for her to go to college, Julaton got a gig teaching at WestWind in 2002. Other instructors wanted to work some boxing into their classes, so they taught her basic techniques to pass on to her students. Julaton was instantly intrigued. Every move had an answer: A jab can be blocked, you can duck out from an opponent's hook, and if you fail, you get punched in the face. Boxing wasn't senseless beating; it was physical chess. Julaton wanted to figure it out, and in 2004, she started competing in amateur bouts, winning the San Francisco Golden Gloves silver medal that year. Reyes read everything he could on women's boxing, and signed on as her manager.

Julaton noted that some of her opponents had 50 or 60 fights — delaying going pro for their shot at the Olympics, which allows only amateur boxers. But that was mostly a dream, since the International Olympic Committee kept refusing to add women's boxing to the summer games. Julaton was angry. "It's something you imagine happening 50 years ago, 100 years ago," she said. "It's like why? Because I'm just a girl?"

About The Author

Lauren Smiley


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