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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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After only five pro fights, Julaton got the chance to compete for her first title against Dominga "La Tormenta" Olivo for the vacant World Boxing Council International (WBC) championship. Olivo was a Dominican Republic–born, lead-fisted fighter from Brooklyn with a short but successful career against tough opponents.

Dropped into the ring at Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in Lemoore, Calif., with competing orders, Julaton forced Roach's technique, getting close even when it didn't make sense, overthinking to the point she couldn't find a flow. "There were all these voices in my head," she recalled. "I'm thinking, which one should I follow?"

"I think she was trying too hard to impress me or the people that night," Roach said. "She got caught in the middle, trying to please everybody. We had a long talk after that, and I said to be herself and do what comes natural to herself."

Julaton and Roach parted amicably, and still talk on the phone. But after the humiliating loss in her short pro career, she thought it might be time to leave boxing for good.


For a year, Julaton went back to teaching and practicing martial arts at WestWind, during which she took yet another hit, injuring her knee. She underwent surgery and rehab, and as time went on, she started thinking about boxing again. Last summer, Reyes got on the phones, looking for another title match. The HP Pavilion in San Jose wanted to tap into the Filipino boxing fan base galvanized by Pacquiao, and promoters arranged for Julaton to fight for the vacant International Boxing Association title.

Julaton was matched against Kelsey "Road Warrior" Jeffries, a seven-time world champion from Gilroy who had never lost in the arena.

Because of her inexperience, Julaton was pegged as the underdog. But she had gained a valuable addition to her corner with renowned coach Nonito Donaire Sr., who prides himself on training fellow Filipinos — including his world champion son — but had not yet trained a woman. Donaire told Julaton that when the veteran fighter Jeffries realizes she's getting beat, she uses unorthodox techniques. Julaton felt ready. If she won, it would be a chance for redemption. If she lost, she was prepared to quit boxing.

From the first bell, Julaton looked relaxed, while Jeffries was jittery. By round four, Julaton was making her opponent miss consistently. Growing more flustered, Jeffries hit Julaton in the side of the head after the bell rang. Julaton played the dirty move to her advantage, holding up her arms as if to say, "What was that?" to the crowd, which booed wildly in response.

In the fifth, Jeffries missed a shot and head-butted Julaton, drawing blood. The crowd chanted, "A-na! A-na! A-na!" But Julaton was not thrown off her game, raising a glove to the crowd after the round. Through the remaining rounds, she continued to land punches as the two butted up against each other like rams.

At the end, Julaton stood in the ring to hear the first score: 96-94 Julaton. The second was a tie. She couldn't make out the third score above the crowd's yells, but the spry Donaire seized her left hand and threw it into the air. She was the world champion. Julaton's face contorted and she burst into tears, hugging Donaire and then Jeffries.

The accolades poured in: A declaration of Ana Julaton Day from Mayor Gavin Newsom. A letter of congratulations from the Philippines' president. Julaton's signed gloves were auctioned for $500 to benefit the country's typhoon victims, a price that surprised even her: "I'm just tripping out right now," she told a reporter. "Just for female boxing ... to have anything worth something, you know?" Her father was amazed when they went to a Filipino bakery in Daly City and customers begged her for photos and autographs.

Julaton's skills drew the attention of the boxing industry, too. "A lot of women with no amateur background push their punches ... like hitting someone with their purse," says Allan Tremblay, who is promoting her next fight. "She has good defense, and a high work rate, and very good balance. When she throws a punch, she doesn't stumble around."

Seeing her ability to bring in Filipino fans, the HP Pavilion arranged for Julaton to fight for the vacant World Boxing Organization title against South Carolina boxer Donna "Nature Girl" Biggers.

After the Jeffries fight, no one expected Biggers to provide much competition; she had lost six of her previous seven matches. Still, Julaton knew her opponent wouldn't go down easy: When she did win, it was usually by technical knockouts.

Compared to Julaton, Biggers looked like a flat-footed zombie in the ring, launching lazy hooks and jabs that rarely made contact as Julaton smacked her with rapid-fire attacks and darted away. Blood streamed down Biggers' face after the second round. Reyes says if he were her coach, he wouldn't have let her continue past the seventh. Winning by unanimous decision, Julaton waved a Filipino flag for the nearly 4,000-strong crowd, and donated part of her purse to Filipino typhoon relief.

While Reyes sees Julaton's victory as further evidence that she is a top female boxer, some in the industry say it was a lousy matchup. "Donna Biggers shouldn't be in a [title] fight," said Butch Gottlieb, the World Boxing Federation commissioner.

The fight allowed the naysayers to contend that Julaton is relatively untested and insist they are unconvinced of her skills. The debate will be resolved this month when she fights Brown, a 39-year-old Trinidad-born Canadian who Roach says is "fresher and more of a challenge" than Jeffries, and will be Julaton's toughest opponent yet.

About The Author

Lauren Smiley

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