Jerwin Ancajas was fighting more than one battle when he stepped foot inside the ring at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
Not only was Ancajas making the ninth defense of his IBF junior bantamweight title against Mexico's Jonathan Javier Rodriguez, but "Pretty Boy" also ended up having to shake off ring rust after a long break from the sport.
"Kahit na nagte-training ka ng tuloy-tuloy, pero iba pa rin 'yung laban, talagang laban talaga," Ancajas admitted after the fight. "Iba 'yung mararamdaman mo, ma-fi-feel mo talaga na, parang matagal ka ng nakalaban."
Before fighting Rodriguez, Ancajas last defended his title in December 2019 against Miguel Gonzalez. His plans to stay active in 2020 was wrecked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He did enough to earn a unanimous decision victory over Rodriguez, with a knockdown in the eighth round likely securing his triumph. But Ancajas acknowledged afterward that he felt some sluggishness, particularly in the second half of the fight.
"'Yung sinasabi nila, totoo po. Totoo po pala na ano, may ring rust talaga," he said.
"Kasi sa akin, sa pagte-training ko, 'pag tuloy-tuloy 'yung training namin, maganda lahat. 'Di naman kami nagpabaya sa ensayo. 'Yung feeling ko na parang hindi ako nahinto ng matagal," he explained.
"Pero pagdating pala talaga sa laban, iba. Iba talaga pagdating na sa laban, iba na 'yung katawan mo."
It was towards the sixth round that Ancajas began to feel the effects of his long layoff. Ancajas piled up the points in the early rounds, utilizing his jab to keep Rodriguez at bay. As the bout wore on, however, he said that he began to struggle with his footwork and movement.
"First ko maramdaman na ganoon na nag-iba. 'Yung sharpness ko, nawala. 'Yung galaw ko sa paa ko, nawala," he said.
"Sa sixth round, naramdaman ko na 'yung paa. 'Yung paa talaga 'yung nag-ano sa akin, parang pumipigil," Ancajas said, explaining that he knew how to counter Rodriguez's clubbing right hands but his feet wouldn't move as he wanted them to.
Ultimately, Ancajas and his corner decided to go blow for blow with Rodriguez, and the Filipino wound up securing the only knockdown of the match after repeatedly landing shots to the body of his Mexican foe. A flurry of punches in the eighth round forced Rodriguez to the mat, although he beat the 10-count and was competitive all the way to the final bell.
"Talagang masaya lang po naanuhan namin, nakapag-adjust kami," said Ancajas. "At talagang, sa experience lang din siguro, nadaan lang siguro sa experience."
After a thrilling match and a well-earned victory, Ancajas is now looking forward to getting a more high-profile opponent in his next fight. He has made no secret of his desire to face the other champions in his division -- Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.
While he leaves the ultimate decision up to his promoters and coaches, Ancajas made it clear that he is ready for those big time matches.
"Gusto kong iparating na handang-handa ako para sa kanila. Dati pa naman po, lagi akong nagbabanggit sa mga pangalan nila. Ako naman ito, 'di pala ako kilala nila," he said. "Kaya isa din sa ano sa akin na gusto kong makilala nila bilang champion din na, andito din ako. Andito din ako."