Moment of truth for Ancajas, Inoue

Abac Cordero - The Philippine Star
Moment of truth for Ancajas, Inoue
Jerwin Ancajas enjoys his meal after the weigh-in.

TOKYO — For a while during Friday’s official weigh-in, there was hushed silence in the room when Jerwin Ancajas, the Filipino challenger, was told to strip naked in front of the scales.

A white bath towel held on both ends by fight officials shielded the 32-year-old Ancajas from members of the press. Then the official announcement was made: Ancajas, 117 ¾ pounds.

Takuma Inoue, the WBA bantamweight (118 lbs) champion from Japan, tipped the scales ahead of Ancajas, and in his purple trunks, was ripped and more comfortable with an identical 117 ¾ pounds.

It meant the fight was on.

On Saturday evening at the historic Kokugikan Arena, built in 1909 to become the epicenter of Japanese sumo wrestling, Ancajas and Inoue will lock horns for a scheduled 12-round title fight.

It’s the first time Ancajas, who had practically seen the world building a ring record of 34-3-2 with 23 knockouts, is fighting in Japan where the weather remained as cold as ice.

But the venue is not new to Filipino fighters. It’s where Gerry Peñalosa won his world title in 1997, and where the late Gabriel “Flash” Elorde defended his crown in 1964. A handful more Pinoy pugs have fought there.

“Ngayon ko lang po nalaman,“ said Ancajas.

After the official weigh-in that lasted no more than 10 minutes, Ancajas headed to a small corner where he tried to recuperate with a tray of spaghetti with broccoli and energy drinks on the table.

Ancajas looked so different from just the other day, his cheekbones more prominent like he had starved himself. But after a few bites, he flashed the thumbs-up sign and smiled but never said a word to those who stood around him.

Ancajas will climb the ring no lower than 130 pounds, seeking to overcome Inoue, by any means, to become “the new” WBA bantamweight champion after a six-year reign (2016 to 2022) as IBF super-flyweight king.

Inoue, 28, the slight favorite and 18-1 with only four knockouts, left the building right after the weigh-in. The other day, he said he idolizes Ancajas and described the Filipino as “the best fighter I will ever face.”

Inoue, who will have Japanese fans and his elder sibling, undisputed super-bantamweight king Naoya behind him on fight night, said he trained hard after recovering from a rib injury last November that forced the postponement of the fight.

“I will fight until the end,” he said.

Ancajas said he expects as much from Inoue, saying that the reigning champion is like any other Japanese fighter. “’Yung stamina nila at ‘yung tapang. ‘Yan ang trademark nila.”

Ancajas will rely on his experience inside the ring with a total of 39 fights against Inoue’s 19. Inoue was only 14 when Ancajas made his pro debut and scored a first-round KO win over Reynaldo Buluan somewhere in Zamboanga del Norte.

“Importante ang experience. Kailangan mo ‘yan sa loob ng ring,” said Ancajas, hoping to become the one and only Filipino world champion in boxing today. “’Yan din ang nagbibigay ng motivation sa akin.”

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