Jerwin Ancajas tests the scales with coach Joven Jimenez.
Feeling at home in Stockton
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - May 19, 2019 - 12:00am

STOCKTON, California — It was like a home away from home for IBF superflyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas who stopped No. 1 contender Ryuichi Funai of Japan in the seventh round to register his seventh title defense in this California port city last weekend.

Stockton, 80 miles east of San Francisco, once had the largest Filipino population of any town in the US. The first Filipino settlers arrived in 1898 but it was in the 1930s when a flock of Filipino migrants descended to fill the demand for agricultural workers, mostly in asparagus fields. By the end of World War II, the Filipino population had grown to 15,000 and a district called Little Manila was established south of Main Street.

Nutritionist Jeaneth Aro points to the hydrating drinks she prepared for Ancajas.

That was where Filipinos, mainly Ilocanos known as manongs, converged in hotels, groceries, barber shops, restaurants and social clubs that had a distinct Filipino flavor. Eventually, the Filipino community dwindled to fewer than 5,000 but it remains the largest non-American group in a population of 300,000. Today, Little Manila is listed as an endangered site by the US National Trust for Historic Preservation. In downtown Stockton, the multi-storey Filipino Center building and the Filipino Plaza strip mall are landmarks.

When Ancajas flew in to co-headline a Top Rank card at the Stockton Arena, the Filipino community welcomed him with open arms. Toti Quijano, an accountant, arranged for pick-ups at the airport and made sure there was always food on the table where Ancajas and his team stayed in a five-bedroom house rented from former city mayor Anthony Silva. Toti migrated to the US in 1983 and is married to 1986 Binibining Pilipinas semifinalist and former PAL flight attendant Beth de Asis.

Tina De Zuniga, her daughter Anna and former ABS-CBN Foundation International president Robbie Fabian at the Red Orchids Restaurant.

Toti brought in Fr. Ron Manango to celebrate Mass in Ancajas’ rented house before the fight and lead the thanksgiving prayer in the locker room after the win. Tina de Zuniga treated the visitors to a Filipino buffet at her restaurant Red Orchids in downtown Stockton. Tina’s husband Tony was a renowned comics illustrator who worked 18 years for Marvel and DC, producing immortal sketches of Superman, Batman, Avengers, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Jonah Hex. Tony passed away in 2012 at 79. Tina runs her restaurant, which opened in 1995, with daughter Anna. Red Orchids’ buffet of less than $10 includes dishes like lechon kawali, lumpiang sariwa na hubad, sinigang na isda, adobo and okoy. 

Ancajas follows in the footsteps of several Filipino world champions who’d performed in Stockton, including Flash Elorde, Ceferino Garcia and Small Montana. Fel Clemente, Dommy Ursua, Rudy Barro and Rod Sequenan were other Filipino fighters who graced the ring in the city.

Ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. with the author Joaquin Henson.

Ancajas, 27, is the longest-reigning 115-pound boxing champion ever. His coach Joven Jimenez arranged for Ancajas to train for over a month at the isolated Marine base in Ternate, Cavite away from distractions and toughened him up with a platoon of eight sparmates to prepare for the mandatory defense. Nutritionist Jeaneth Aro, whose list of clients includes Olympic weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, prepared a healthy diet for Ancajas that trimmed his weight from over 130 pounds last November to 114.2 at the weigh-in the day before last Saturday’s fight without losing muscle mass. 

Ancajas dominated Funai from start to finish. Ringside physician Dr. Gary Furness advised referee Edward Collantes to stop the fight early in the seventh round when Funai’s right eye lagged from his left in moving sideways, indicating a brain concussion. Judges Daniel Sandoval and Jonathan Davis had it a 60-54 shutout and judge Kermit Bayless scored it 59-54 at the time of the stoppage.

Ancajas spears Funai with a right jab.

The Filipino community filled the stands in the arena and even round girl CJ Gibson turned out to be a Fil-Am. Top Rank recruits round girls to join the Knockouts, a team managed by Fil-Am model Kristine Stokes.

Las Vegas international matchmaker Sean Gibbons said Top Rank CEO Bob Arum was ecstatic over Ancajas’ sensational victory and revealed plans of staging his next defense against unbeaten Australian Andrew (The Monster) Moloney, tentatively in September. Gibbons’ son Brendan played a key role in making the Ancajas team’s stay in Stockton a wrinkle-free and memorable experience.

Ancajas with Sean Gibbons, Jason Soong, LA photographer Jhay Otamias and Vergel Jimenez.

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