FRESNO, Calif. -- Jerwin Ancajas knows what to expect on Saturday night. He knows because he's been there before.
In Jonas Sultan, the mandatory challenger he'll face in the fifth defense of his IBF junior bantamweight title, Ancajas sees a hungry Filipino who is often overlooked until a sanctioning body ordered him to a championship opportunity.
Though Ancajas is the champion and Sultan is the challenger, they've lived mirrored lives in many ways.
Both grew up in Mindanao supported by fathers who farmed, with Ancajas being raised in Panabo City by his dad who worked the banana plantations to keep food on the table for him and his two siblings. Sultan also came from a similar humble start, with his dad growing corn in Tampilisan, Zamboanga del Norte to support eight children.
Ancajas' mother moved away and remarried in General Santos City, while Sultan's worked as a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia for 13 years. Without their matriarchs present, they took to boxing to literally fight their ways out of poverty, influenced by their older brothers Jesar Ancajas and Dondon Sultan, both of whom also became pro fighters.
From there, their similarities become more scarce. Ancajas became one of the country's top amateurs and relocated to Luzon under the guidance of upstart trainer/manager Joven Jimenez, bouncing around gyms and at times sleeping in his coach's living room with his partner and son. He now owns and lives at his own training center, a spartan facility in Magallanes, Cavite aptly named Survival Camp.
Sultan had a limited amateur career and followed his older brother to the iconic ALA Gym in Cebu City, incurring early defeats as he gained experience before making his name as an upset specialist in other countries.
Their paths merge this weekend at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California, headlining a card shown live around the world on ESPN+ in the United States and on ESPN5 in the Philippines. Though Sultan's record of 14-3, including nine knockouts, appears benign enough, Ancajas isn't kidding himself about the task he has in front of him.
"This is by far my toughest defense since I'm fighting against a Filipino, and we all know how tough Filipinos are, especially in the ring," said Ancajas (29-1-1, 20 KOs). "Filipino boxers put the heart and soul into their fights. They're hungry to fight."
Jimenez takes a different approach to how he views each opponent: Everyone whom they face will be the hardest challenge, especially when you're fighting in different countries, and there's no use looking towards the forest if you'll run into the tree before you.
"All challengers are very dangerous," said Jimenez.
By now, people are already familiar with the historic nature of this fight, given that 93 years have elapsed since two Filipino fighters had faced one another when Pancho Villa, then the world's best flyweight after his beating of revered Welshman Jimmy Wilde, met local tough guy Clever Sencio at Wallace Field, the site of today's Rizal Park in Manila.
Many had wanted the two Filipinos to take different routes and avoid one another, but Ancajas knew that, with the abundance of world-ranked fighters in the lower weights from the Philippines, it was only a matter of time and he embraced their spot in history.
"It is an honor that we will be a part of Philippine boxing history," said Ancajas, who is two weeks younger than the 26-year-old Sultan. "It has been years since there was a Filipino vs. Filipino fight. My name being included in Philippine boxing has been a dream of mine and now it has come true."
But Sultan is no token opponent. He rose from high-risk "opponent" to legitimate contender by pulling a series of upsets away from home, beginning in 2015 when he defeated Rene Dacquel by decision to win the Philippine championship at 115 pounds. Then after losing a competitive decision to Go Onaga in Japan on one week's notice, Sultan went back to Japan in his next fight and knocked out Tatsuya Ikemizu in two rounds, following later that year by another second-round stoppage of Makazole Tete in South Africa.
He continued his rise in 2017 by knocking former WBC flyweight champ Sonny Boy Jaro out of the ring for the count in eight rounds before upsetting two-time world champion Johnriel Casimero by decision to become Ancajas' mandatory.
"This is, by far, my toughest defense since I'm fighting against a Filipino, and we all know how tough Filipinos are, especially in the ring. Filipino boxers put the heart and soul into their fights." Jerwin Ancajas
The two did not cross paths until this past March at the annual Flash Elorde Awards in Manila, when they exchanged pleasantries and wished the other good luck, and they once more met at a meet-and-greet event at the Filipino Cultural Center in Los Angeles, alongside other top Filipino fighters who were in the area, including Sultan's stablemate Donnie Nietes and lightweight prospect Romero Duno.
Ancajas and Sultan did not exchange trash talk or play games. They realize they are from similar backgrounds and want to settle things in the ring.
"We were both challengers and hungry to win. We both have dreams of living a better life. This is why my team and I won't be complacent in preparing for this fight with Jonas because we're both eager and hungry to win," said Ancajas, a father of two boys with his partner Ruth, who is pregnant with their third child -- a daughter due in September.
Sultan himself has two daughters, aged two and four.
On Ancajas' trip to Los Angeles, the team forgot his world title belt in the van and it had to be brought by an associate who was flying to the U.S. for the fight.
But Ancajas is confident his presence of mind and focus on the goal at hand will ensure he doesn't forget to bring it back home with him after Saturday night.