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Instead of fulfilling her parents' wish for her to go to college, Julaton got a gig teaching at WestWind in 2002. Other instructors wanted to work some boxing into their classes, so they taught her basic techniques to pass on to her students. Julaton was instantly intrigued. Every move had an answer: A jab can be blocked, you can duck out from an opponent's hook, and if you fail, you get punched in the face. Boxing wasn't senseless beating; it was physical chess. Julaton wanted to figure it out, and in 2004, she started competing in amateur bouts, winning the San Francisco Golden Gloves silver medal that year. Reyes read everything he could on women's boxing, and signed on as her manager.
Julaton noted that some of her opponents had 50 or 60 fights — delaying going pro for their shot at the Olympics, which allows only amateur boxers. But that was mostly a dream, since the International Olympic Committee kept refusing to add women's boxing to the summer games. Julaton was angry. "It's something you imagine happening 50 years ago, 100 years ago," she said. "It's like why? Because I'm just a girl?"
She competed in local and national amateur tournaments, racking up 35 fights and building on her technique throwing simple one-two punches down the middle. The announcers often butchered her name: Luciana Jewelaton. Luciana Jubilation. So she shortened Luciana to "Ana" and added the nickname of "The Hurricane" to nudge announcers to correctly pronounce her last name ("Hula-ton"). It stuck.
At the U.S.A. Boxing National Championships in 2007, Julaton won the silver medal, and, to this day, suspects shady judging kept her from the gold. Still, she'd gone about as far as she could in amateur boxing, and the Olympic committee had again barred women from competing in the 2008 summer games. She was heartbroken. "I was thinking, God, I don't even want to box, but I can't leave this sport," she recalls. "Something needs to be done about this."
Julaton wondered whether it was time to turn pro. She decided to get advice from the man who helped make Manny Pacquiao a world champion.
It wasn't the first time Julaton had met Freddie Roach. In fact, she had first walked into his Wild Card gym in Los Angeles as an amateur in 2006. He had told her to put on her gloves and do some mitt work. Julaton could hardly concentrate with the legendary Pacquiao's trainer holding up the mitts, but Roach says he was equally smitten. "I liked her work ethic," he said. "I don't like lazy people. A lot of people come and say, 'Train me,' and they can't go a round. ... I can push — and she hung in there and she performed well."
He jokes he has a crush on her: "I don't like to see her fight because I don't want to see her face messed up, but I believe in freedom of choice, so I can live with it." (Reyes' usually jovial demeanor flares with irritation at Roach's jokes, knowing how gossip can spread in the boxing world: "We don't want a scandal; we don't want anything like 'Freddie Roach is in love with Ana Julaton.'")
When Julaton and Reyes returned in 2007, they asked Roach if he thought Julaton could go pro. She was ready, he said, and he wanted to be her trainer.
Julaton dropped one weight class from her amateur weight to 122 pounds, super bantamweight, so she would generally be taller than her opponents. In a two-week camp before her pro debut, Roach taught her to close in on her opponent — to bob and weave and pop short inside punches. The technique served her well, earning her four pro wins and one draw, mostly on the undercards of men's matches in Las Vegas and California casinos.
In the pros, the headgear comes off, and, in her fifth match, Julaton felt cold liquid streaming down her face. Only later when she swiped it away did she discover it was blood: "It was pretty neat."
Each day after her workout with Roach, the Pac-Man himself showed up for training. Though their communication was limited by Pacquiao's then-halting English and Julaton's nonexistent Tagalog, he invited her to lunch a couple of times at his apartment with his team. One time, he asked her why she wasn't eating with a fork in one hand and a spoon in the other, like Filipinos do. His interrogation continued: Why don't you speak Tagalog?
Julaton had no answer. "I couldn't say anything," she recalled. "I didn't want to seem rude, because it's like [he's] this world champion boxer." Still, Pacquiao's questions and her Filipino following helped pique her curiosity about her own heritage, alongside guilt for not knowing more.
While Julaton had never visited the Philippines and always questioned what being Filipino meant to a born-and-bred American, there was no doubt that Filipinos had started identifying with her. At the 2006 San Francisco Golden Gloves boxing tournament where she earned the championship, she was approached by a man and a gaggle of Filipino boys who all wanted pictures and autographs.
Reyes says that Filipinos don't hold it against Julaton that she didn't grow up in the country. "If you grew up in the Philippines, you moved to America to be somebody, and Ana is somebody," he said. "That was the dream. That was the whole point."