FRESNO, California -- It may be hard for people to imagine where Jerwin Ancajas was just two years ago. Before he won the IBF super flyweight title with a unanimous decision over McJoe Arroyo, Ancajas was living with his two sons and partner Ruth in a sparsely furnished one bedroom rental in Imus, Cavite, Philippines -- their bed just a mattress on the floor. And before that, when his manager/trainer Joven Jimenez went through financial difficulties, Ancajas and his family stayed in the living room of Jimenez's home.
Now, after two years as champion, he just put a fresh coat of paint on the home he built in front of the Survival Camp complex in Magallanes, Cavite, and is expanding his training facility with new equipment.
Prior to the Arroyo fight in Taguig City, Ancajas walked home from the gym to his hotel room, going unnoticed among the masses and street dogs he passed by along Paranaque City. Now he has a van that shuttles him around town in Fresno ahead of his fifth title defense this Saturday against Jonas Sultan at the Save Mart Center.
In his previous four title defenses, Ancajas traveled to Macau, Australia and Northern Ireland, and then, after signing with promotional company Top Rank, he made his most recent defense in Corpus Christi, Texas -- a tenth round technical knockout of Israel Gonzalez. The Sultan fight will be his first as a headliner in the United States, where both Filipinos will be seen live on the ESPN+ app and on ESPN5 in the Philippines.
Despite being anointed as the next boxing star in the Philippines and having his face shown daily on television screens in his home country, Ancajas remains the same shy, deferential man he had been before anyone had heard of him.
Ancajas may be fighting in California next, but that doesn't mean he's going Hollywood.
"What people see is who Jerwin is. I don't want to change, I just like keeping things simple," said Ancajas (29-1-1, 20 knockouts) of Panabo City, Davao del Norte, Philippines.
"Even (Manny Pacquiao), he teaches us to be humble. We can't brag because everything we have is just borrowed from God."
To Ancajas, everyone is "sir" or "boss", though as one of the bosses of the 115 pound division, he's boxing royalty in the Philippines. What many back home find appealing about the 26-year-old is that he's not a larger-than-life character; he's just a regular guy who happens to be a very good fighter and a world champion.
Ancajas credits this lesson in the importance of humility to his upbringing in the amateurs, watching one of his teammates showboat in the ring and drawing the ire of the people in attendance.
"When he would hit his opponent he'd start acting all conceited and I just thought it didn't look nice in the ring, and the crowd wasn't pleased either. He was a good fighter but because he was so arrogant a lot of people despised him," said Ancajas. "So that's when I thought that, no matter how good of a fighter you are, you still have to stay humble. Even if you lose, people won't take it against you because you stayed humble."
Matchmaker Sean Gibbons first matched Ancajas in 2014, when he defeated Fadhili Majiha in three rounds in Macau. He says some fighters know how to handle success, and others can't help but self-destruct.
"Jerwin was raised a certain way. Even though this is all a dream to him, he's who he is," said Gibbons. "He knows how hard it was to get here."
Ancajas remembers when he was a child he brought his father his meals while he worked hard on a banana plantation to keep food on their table and husked coconuts for extra pesos when earnings were slim. There were days when his father couldn't afford rice for Jerwin and his older brother and younger sister, and their meals would consist just of bananas or sweet potatoes.
When Ancajas first came to Manila, he was not the highest regarded fighter in his gym and had to keep his head down and work hard to get noticed in a talent-rich stable. It's a situation which parallels where Sultan (14-3, 9 KOs) is in at the ALA Gym in Cebu City, being lost in the shuffle among champions Donnie Nietes and Milan Melindo before pulling off a number of upsets -- including one over two-division champion Johnriel Casimero to earn his title shot against Ancajas.
"Like Jonas, nobody hardly knew me in the gym. Coach Joven was training so many world class boxers but I really started from the bottom and am just doing my best," said Ancajas.
You won't see many extravagances with Ancajas. He doesn't wear flashy jewelry or throw his money around town. Instead of showy vehicles, Ancajas bought a used four-door Toyota compact which he had previously used as a GrabCar before relegating it to personal use, and he also has a van for transporting fighters and staff from Survival Camp. His splurge purchase in Fresno was a pair of Pumas to run in, and some Skechers for his wife.
"No matter how good of a fighter you are, you still have to stay humble. Even if you lose, people won't take it against you because you stayed humble." Jerwin Ancajas
After taking care of his family members with his previous purses, Ancajas plans to save up some cash for his family's future. That's not a bad idea, considering that Ruth is expecting their third child, their first daughter, providing another reason for him to keep winning and keep the purses coming in. As a father he hopes to instill in them the appreciation for everything they have, even if they won't have to go through the struggles he did.
"My eldest (Kyrie) I see kindness in him. With the youngest one (Kyle), not yet," Ancajas says with a chuckle.
Even though he's a champion himself, Ancajas is still a fan of other boxers. He was excited when word had gotten around Fresno that world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua would be at the fight to support his friend and stablemate, WBA junior bantamweight titleholder Kal Yafai, who will defend his title against Mexico's David Carmona in the co-featured bout.
"I heard that Anthony Joshua will be watching. It's inspiring to see him there, he's one of the best heavyweights and I really hope we get to meet him," said Ancajas.
Should Ancajas continue to win, other boxers will be wanting to meet him as well.