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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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She competed in local and national amateur tournaments, racking up 35 fights and building on her technique throwing simple one-two punches down the middle. The announcers often butchered her name: Luciana Jewelaton. Luciana Jubilation. So she shortened Luciana to "Ana" and added the nickname of "The Hurricane" to nudge announcers to correctly pronounce her last name ("Hula-ton"). It stuck.

At the U.S.A. Boxing National Championships in 2007, Julaton won the silver medal, and, to this day, suspects shady judging kept her from the gold. Still, she'd gone about as far as she could in amateur boxing, and the Olympic committee had again barred women from competing in the 2008 summer games. She was heartbroken. "I was thinking, God, I don't even want to box, but I can't leave this sport," she recalls. "Something needs to be done about this."

Julaton wondered whether it was time to turn pro. She decided to get advice from the man who helped make Manny Pacquiao a world champion.


It wasn't the first time Julaton had met Freddie Roach. In fact, she had first walked into his Wild Card gym in Los Angeles as an amateur in 2006. He had told her to put on her gloves and do some mitt work. Julaton could hardly concentrate with the legendary Pacquiao's trainer holding up the mitts, but Roach says he was equally smitten. "I liked her work ethic," he said. "I don't like lazy people. A lot of people come and say, 'Train me,' and they can't go a round. ... I can push — and she hung in there and she performed well."

He jokes he has a crush on her: "I don't like to see her fight because I don't want to see her face messed up, but I believe in freedom of choice, so I can live with it." (Reyes' usually jovial demeanor flares with irritation at Roach's jokes, knowing how gossip can spread in the boxing world: "We don't want a scandal; we don't want anything like 'Freddie Roach is in love with Ana Julaton.'")

When Julaton and Reyes returned in 2007, they asked Roach if he thought Julaton could go pro. She was ready, he said, and he wanted to be her trainer.

Julaton dropped one weight class from her amateur weight to 122 pounds, super bantamweight, so she would generally be taller than her opponents. In a two-week camp before her pro debut, Roach taught her to close in on her opponent — to bob and weave and pop short inside punches. The technique served her well, earning her four pro wins and one draw, mostly on the undercards of men's matches in Las Vegas and California casinos.

In the pros, the headgear comes off, and, in her fifth match, Julaton felt cold liquid streaming down her face. Only later when she swiped it away did she discover it was blood: "It was pretty neat."

Each day after her workout with Roach, the Pac-Man himself showed up for training. Though their communication was limited by Pacquiao's then-halting English and Julaton's nonexistent Tagalog, he invited her to lunch a couple of times at his apartment with his team. One time, he asked her why she wasn't eating with a fork in one hand and a spoon in the other, like Filipinos do. His interrogation continued: Why don't you speak Tagalog?

Julaton had no answer. "I couldn't say anything," she recalled. "I didn't want to seem rude, because it's like [he's] this world champion boxer." Still, Pacquiao's questions and her Filipino following helped pique her curiosity about her own heritage, alongside guilt for not knowing more.

While Julaton had never visited the Philippines and always questioned what being Filipino meant to a born-and-bred American, there was no doubt that Filipinos had started identifying with her. At the 2006 San Francisco Golden Gloves boxing tournament where she earned the championship, she was approached by a man and a gaggle of Filipino boys who all wanted pictures and autographs.

Reyes says that Filipinos don't hold it against Julaton that she didn't grow up in the country. "If you grew up in the Philippines, you moved to America to be somebody, and Ana is somebody," he said. "That was the dream. That was the whole point."

Julaton called her grandmother and aunts to talk about her grandfather, who died in 2004. He had grown up in Pangasinan Province, the youngest of 13 children. Their parents were rice farmers, and he quit elementary school to work in the paddy fields. By the time he was 16, he decided to leave poverty and lied about his age to enlist in the U.S. Army. With a physique similar to Julaton's, he boxed other servicemen as a southpaw (left-hander), and took his blows from racism, too.

After bringing his family to the Bayview in San Francisco in the late 1950s, Julaton's grandfather decided it was best that his children assimilate to thrive. In the 1970s, his son, Cesar, had a circle of mostly African-American and Chinese friends while attending what is now Burton High School, and put up with some berating from more recent Filipino immigrants for not speaking the language.

Julaton wrote a note to Pacquiao about her grandfather on the cover of a 2007 Premier Round magazine, on which she appeared with Laila Ali. "He doesn't necessarily understand how hard it was to live as a Filipino-American during a certain time," Julaton says. "[My parents] always told me how they couldn't choose what they wanted to do in life, which is why I want to give back to them and show all the hard work [that] led up to this: to be able to do what I want to do."

In the ring, Julaton wanted to win a world title. During her early pro fights, she alternated flying to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks to train with Roach with working out at home with Reyes and Filipino-American Rick Noble, known for coaching multiple world champion Carina Moreno from Watsonville. The camps preached diametrically opposite techniques: Reyes and Noble wanted her to use her height advantage and arm extension to strike, sniperlike, from a distance, while Roach wanted her to use the close-range tactics he had taught her.

About The Author

Lauren Smiley

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