FRESNO, Calif. -- The highlights of the Cleveland Cavaliers' Game 4 win over the Boston Celtics awakened Jerwin Ancajas' hoops fandom on Monday night.
After a few rounds of punching the mitts with trainer Joven Jimenez, Ancajas picked up a black and purple Kevin Durant basketball and showed off his dribbling skills, between his legs and behind his legs, like a Barangay Kyrie Irving, daring others to guard him. Mark Anthony Barriga obliged him, and after a few shake-and-bake jukes, Ancajas was past him.
"He has a fight coming up so I'll give respect," Barriga said, insinuating he would have picked his pocket if only he had the interest.
Once up in their hotel room, Ancajas went to his bed and Barriga went to the sink, hand washing the IBF junior bantamweight titleholder's underwear and other garments. Being a 2012 Olympian and the unbeaten number one contender for the IBF strawweight title doesn't make Barriga too big to do even the most menial of tasks in camp.
Like a good team, everyone knows their role. Sometimes you're hitting the game-winning three, and sometimes you're the guy setting the pick to open up the shot. And sometimes you're scrubbing clothes with Tide detergent in a hotel bathroom.
"Jerwin has a fight so he can't be doing all that, of course he needs his rest. Especially being the youngest one here I want to be able to help out. Coach Joven should be focused on Jerwin, he shouldn't have to do all that," said Barriga, now a pro with a 9-0 (1 knockout) record.
"I'm here to support Jerwin and help him in any way I can just like how he's done that for me."
Ancajas (29-1-1, 20 KOs) and team are currently in Fresno for his fifth title defense this Saturday (Sunday Manila time) against Jonas Sultan (14-3, 9 KOs) at the Save Mart Center. The match will stream live on ESPN+ in the U.S. and shown live on ESPN5 in the Philippines.
As Ancajas rested in bed Tuesday afternoon, Barriga and Brendan Gibbons (son of Ancajas' matchmaker Sean Gibbons) walked around Fashion Fair mall in downtown Fresno, helping Ancajas shop for shoes and clothes, holding up a phone on Facebook video to the merchandise so Ancajas could decide what they should buy.
The team spirit is reciprocal. For Barriga's fight last December against Glenne Calacar, Ancajas held the spit bucket in the corner, a designation usually held by upstarts. In Los Angeles, prior to arriving in Fresno, Ancajas apologized to Barriga for not being able to assist prior to his last fight, a shutout of Gabriel Mendoza on May 13 to become the mandatory challenger to 105-pound champ Hiroto Kyoguchi, because he was in training camp for this fight.
"He said to me, 'Hey boss I'm sorry I haven't been able to help out,' but to me there's no need for that," said Barriga.
"I know how tired boxers get, looking after their weight, not being able to eat as much, not being able to drink much water, so I understand."
If it seems like they're good teammates, it's because they've gotten used to working together since they were elementary school students boxing on the Panabo City Barangay Una team in Davao del Norte, Philippines when Barriga was 8 and Ancajas 10, with Barriga boxing at just 26 kilograms (57 pounds) and Ancajas at 32 kilograms (70 pounds).
Barriga laughs as he remembers the younger Jerwin as a "very crazy" guy who would bully him and other boxers because of his diminutive stature.
"We always joked around with him. He's the smallest and youngest one in the team so sometimes he gets a little bullied," said Ancajas.
In an interesting coincidence, another of their amateur teammates, John Vincent Moralde (19-1, 10 KOs), who had won gold for Davao Region alongside his brother Engelbert Moralde, plus Ancajas and Barriga at the 2008 Palarong Pambansa, will fight on the undercard in Fresno against unbeaten Ugandan Ismail Muwendo (19-0, 12 KOs) in an eight-round junior lightweight fight.
Ancajas and Barriga parted ways in 2009 when Ancajas left the team to turn pro and Barriga moved to the Philippine national amateur team in 2010, but they reunited shortly after Barriga turned pro in 2016.
Matchmaker Sean Gibbons says Barriga was "coming out of a bad situation" when Ancajas stepped in to co-manage him with Joven Jimenez, and says Barriga's dedication to helping his friend comes from the appreciation for his help, as well as their shared experiences training together at the Spartan-like Survival Camp facility in Magallanes, Cavite, Philippines.
"I think it's a little Survival Camp mentality, they have a real bond together and kids like Mark are very appreciative," said Gibbons.
"You wouldn't really see [a top fighter doing another's laundry] with a lot of guys, I've never seen it personally. But Filipino brothers have a different bond."
What Barriga has noticed is a shift in Ancajas' attitude; he's much more down to Earth, and reminds the other fighters to keep a similar attitude.
"It's a very big change for me. What I saw the last time, he's a crazy guy, bully guy," said Barriga. "When I see him [now] he's always with his feet on the ground. When I see Jerwin when he manages his family, his kids, his wife, everything's changed."
Barriga is one of a handful of team members accompanying Ancajas, including new assistants Delfin Boholst and Roberto Jalnaiz, both highly experienced amateur standouts. Boholst had been on the national team with Barriga and helps with padwork and cooks Ancajas' meals. Jalnaiz brings a wealth of knowledge, having represented the Philippines at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics and won a gold medal at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, China. Ancajas is also working with a licensed nutritionist, Loveleah Uli-basang, for the first time. Uli-basang, who is also from Panabo City, has advised Ancajas and team about what food to eat and how much.
The early results are promising; Ancajas is just three pounds over the limit four days before the fight. Usually he would have to lose five pounds the day before the fight.
"Yeah, I'm definitely happy with the team, the hard work they put in, they really do their part. They also give me the strength inside the ring; what they ask me to do that's what I do," said Ancajas.
Barriga admits Sultan is a more dangerous opponent than any of Ancajas' four previous opponents he had faced in title defenses, but he likes Ancajas' chances of retaining his belt.
"This is not an easy fight for Jerwin because he wants to get the belt. [Sultan] doesn't care because he's not champion," said Barriga.
"For me, if you ask me who will win, I'll pick Jerwin because of the experience, the technique, and knowledge in the ring. But don't forget, Jerwin needs to get ready in the ring because we don't know what will happen inside the ring."
Through the years Barriga has seen Ancajas go through a personality shift. He doesn't see Ancajas moving away from the person he is today, even as his success grows.
"I saw a lot of athletes who when they get their dream, everything changes, the become swell-headed, but Jerwin until now he's the same," said Barriga.
"In the Survival Camp, he's always the one who tells the boxers, 'You need to be humble, you need to train hard, you need to focus on the fight.' He's always encouraging all the boxers at Survival Camp."