Jerwin Ancajas convinced his countrymen last year he had what it took to become a world champion.
To start 2018, he'll see whether he could win over the biggest group of boxing fans in the sport's most lucrative setting: the American market.
Ancajas will put his world junior-bantamweight title on the line in his US debut when he takes on Israel Gonzalez of Mexico at Bank of America Center in Corpus Christi, Texas Sunday morning (Saturday, US time).
Ancajas, a native of Panabo city in Davao del Norte, but currently considers Cavite his home, carries a record of 28 wins, 19 of which were via knockout, to go with a loss and a draw.
Gonzalez, also a first-time fighter in the States, has won 21 of his 22 fights.
With the Philippines looking for its next big name in the sport, Ancajas has often been compared with Manny Pacquiao, his promoter who like Ancajas is a lefty capable of making short work of his opponents.
Last year, Ancajas successfully defended his championship thrice, all of them over inside 8 rounds.
As proven by his demeanor since he won the IBF title in 2016, Ancajas has the same down-to-earth personality as his boyhood idol.
"Sa akin po nahihirapan akong maikumpara sa isang alamat na tulad ni sir Manny,” Ancajas said in the final presscon leading to the fight.
“Pero bilang boxer gagawa rin ako ng pangalan para makasama ang mga kilalang boksingero.”
That's the goal Ancajas has set out to accomplish — earn the praise of a highly critical foreign media and the sport's loyal followers, then cash in big.
For Ancajas to do that and follow in Pacquiao's multimillion-dollar footsteps, boxing analyst Ed Tolentino said Ancajas would have to be spectacular against Gonzalez.
“In a way, it is his coming-out party in the US and he needs nothing less than an impressive debut. It is important to get an eye-popping win, because you want to get a good first impression,” Tolentino said, adding that he thinks Ancajas won’t have any problem against Gonzalez despite the latter’s lack of existing fight tapes.
“His foe is quite an enigma but I'd like to believe that the Mexican was handpicked to ensure a stellar US debut for Jerwin. The guy was still figuring in 8-round fights last year.”
The analyst also described Ancajas as a complete, thinking fighter who has a lot in his arsenal.
“He packs power but is very judicious with his approach. He is not the gung-ho type but rather one who breaks down his foe before unloading the wrecking ball,” Tolentino said.
Fellow analyst Dennis Principe said Ancajas would have to give US fans a blood-and-guts fight.
“ 'Yung sweet science of boxing kasi parang kaunti na lang ang nag-a-appreciate sa US. Kung mayroon man, it is not that formidable pagdating sa gates and pay-per-view market," Principe said.
“(Ancajas) needs to give what the people there what the people there would like to see, so blood and guts talaga.”
Ancajas’ coach, Joven Jimenez, shared the same sentiment.
Jimenez said Ancajas can't not afford to underestimate Gonzalez since the bout is not just about keeping the title, but also achieving stardom.
“Kaya patay kung patay po kami pag dating sa laban,” Jimenez said.
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)