The Eyes of the Hurricane

She's been called the female Manny Pacquiao. But can Ana Julaton make people care about women's boxing?

The accolades poured in: A declaration of Ana Julaton Day from Mayor Gavin Newsom. A letter of congratulations from the Philippines' president. Julaton's signed gloves were auctioned for $500 to benefit the country's typhoon victims, a price that surprised even her: "I'm just tripping out right now," she told a reporter. "Just for female boxing ... to have anything worth something, you know?" Her father was amazed when they went to a Filipino bakery in Daly City and customers begged her for photos and autographs.

Julaton's skills drew the attention of the boxing industry, too. "A lot of women with no amateur background push their punches ... like hitting someone with their purse," says Allan Tremblay, who is promoting her next fight. "She has good defense, and a high work rate, and very good balance. When she throws a punch, she doesn't stumble around."

Seeing her ability to bring in Filipino fans, the HP Pavilion arranged for Julaton to fight for the vacant World Boxing Organization title against South Carolina boxer Donna "Nature Girl" Biggers.

After the Jeffries fight, no one expected Biggers to provide much competition; she had lost six of her previous seven matches. Still, Julaton knew her opponent wouldn't go down easy: When she did win, it was usually by technical knockouts.

Compared to Julaton, Biggers looked like a flat-footed zombie in the ring, launching lazy hooks and jabs that rarely made contact as Julaton smacked her with rapid-fire attacks and darted away. Blood streamed down Biggers' face after the second round. Reyes says if he were her coach, he wouldn't have let her continue past the seventh. Winning by unanimous decision, Julaton waved a Filipino flag for the nearly 4,000-strong crowd, and donated part of her purse to Filipino typhoon relief.

While Reyes sees Julaton's victory as further evidence that she is a top female boxer, some in the industry say it was a lousy matchup. "Donna Biggers shouldn't be in a [title] fight," said Butch Gottlieb, the World Boxing Federation commissioner.

The fight allowed the naysayers to contend that Julaton is relatively untested and insist they are unconvinced of her skills. The debate will be resolved this month when she fights Brown, a 39-year-old Trinidad-born Canadian who Roach says is "fresher and more of a challenge" than Jeffries, and will be Julaton's toughest opponent yet.

Julaton "hasn't been, in my view, in a really career-threatening fight," Tremblay said. "We don't know what she can take because she's never really been pushed, but she'll be pushed a little in this fight, so we'll see how she'll do."

Reyes parked in front of the Manila Star restaurant in a Daly City shopping plaza. He picked up the Filipino newspapers in the entryway and entered the near-empty restaurant, which had a piped-in cover of "Kokomo" playing and a faux-bamboo tiki hut along the wall. Julaton and her sparring partner bowed to another WestWind instructor waiting for them and sat at a long table.

Reyes leafed through the Manila Mail, spotting a photo of Julaton posing with "future World Champion Ciso 'Kid Terrible' Morales." The previously undefeated Morales had since lost his most recent world title match. Julaton half-smiled, half-grimaced, and shook her head, a reaction she uses often when confronted with an uncomfortable truth: "Yeah." One day you're the hyped future world champion, the next day you're nothing.

If Julaton wins the WBA title, she hopes to fight for the World Boxing Council title to become the undisputed world champion. She wants to win the titles quickly, because she plans to spend two more years maximum in the sport to avoid brain damage. While society may have some tolerance for Muhammad Ali's tremors or Freddie Roach's slurred speech from Parkinson's disease, seeing a woman with a boxing-related disability is the depressing stuff of which Million Dollar Baby Oscar winners are made.

At the Manila Star, Julaton limited herself to two bowls of catfish soup and a chicken breast — she has to watch what she eats while she's in training. "I'm so hungry," she groaned. But food, like the motorcade through Manila the Philippine GMA Pinoy TV network is promising if she wins her third title, will come later. First, she has to win.

In business terms, the match is already a victory. As a benefit of sharing a card with a title match involving Canada's favorite boxer, Steve Molitor, the bouts will be televised on the Sports Network, the country's most widely broadcast sports channel. The Filipino channel will be transmitting Julaton's performance to Filipinos the world over, and the promoter is betting on Ontario's proven Filipino fan base to turn out. Julaton is stoked: "It's going to be a 10-round title fight where they'll show all of the rounds," she said. But unless you know someone who gets one of those channels, you're out of luck. No American networks signed on.

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