FRESNO, Calif. -- As the photo opportunities wrapped up at Thursday's press conference, the final two men standing on stage were the two men holding world title belts.
IBF Super Flyweight titleholder Jerwin Ancajas and WBA champion Kal Yafai shook hands and showed each other respect and posed for a few photos. They didn't face off, that was reserved for the men they'll meet in the ring on Saturday night (Sunday in Manila) at the Save Mart Center in Fresno.
If they win their respective fights, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum says they could meet next to unify two of the belts at 115 pounds.
"That is the plan. Let's see. They each of course have to win their fights and, hopefully, we'll get it on at the end of the year," said Arum.
The opportunity to bring two of the belts together is a tempting one for Ancajas. Not even Manny Pacquiao in his 22-year career had been a unified champion, having gone 0-1-2 in fights with two belts. Only America-raised Pinoys Brian Viloria and Nonito Donaire Jr. have brought two belts together, with Flash Elorde having held the WBA and WBC junior lightweight titles in the 1960s when the world title was split.
"Yes, that's our dream. I want to have a chance at fighting other champions," said Ancajas (29-1-1, 20 knockouts), before turning his attention back to the task at hand against mandatory Jonas Sultan. "Right now I just want to stay focused on this fight, I don't want to think of it as a sure win. I want to stay focused.
"Fighting with [Sultan] is no joke. Some people underestimate him but I definitely don't, for me so far he's my most difficult opponent. He has Filipino blood, we're all hungry to win, we're all hungry for the world championship."
Yafai (23-0, 14 KOs) of Birmingham, England takes a similar stand ahead of his third title defense against David Carmona, a rugged Mexican who has fought two highly regarded champions in the lower weight classes, Naoya Inoue and Omar Narvaez. Still, Yafai says he'd also be interested in meeting the Filipino champion.
"All eyes are on David Carmona this Saturday. I never overlook any opponent no matter who they are. When I get the job done then I'll sit down with my team and see what's next. If (unification is) available, then 100 percent we're down," said Yafai, who is signed with England-based Matchroom Boxing.
Yafai, a former top amateur in the United Kingdom who is of Yemeni descent, is two years older than Ancajas at 28 and won his title with a unanimous decision over Luis Concepcion in December of 2016 -- three months after Ancajas won his belt.
Not everyone in Team Ancajas is excited about the prospect of facing Yafai, a boxer-mover type who looks to pile up points and doesn't engage much.
"Top Rank seems to be pushing Yafai, we'll absolutely take a look at him. From what I've seen so far, not really into fighting guys who fight in a spoiler type of style. They win but it's not pretty, it's not the type of fights we like," said matchmaker Sean Gibbons, who works with Ancajas' co-promoter MP Promotions.
Gibbons' ideal plan would be to get him another title defense or two to settle him in as a champion, then go for bigger name action fighters like Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Juan Francisco Estrada, who are expected to fight in September in a rematch of their fight earlier this year which Sor Rungvisai won by majority decision to retain the WBC junior bantamweight title.
Arum would be on board with Ancajas fighting either Sor Rungvisai or Estrada, saying "we're prepared to have Ancajas take the best and toughest fights so that he can show people he is the real goods."
Ancajas, who is making his fifth defense, understands well the danger that Sultan (14-3, 9 KOs) represents. Sultan scored an upset decision victory over two-division world champion Johnriel Casimero in his most recent bout to earn the title shot, and even Yafai isn't counting out Sultan out before the bell rings.
"I expect Jerwin Ancajas to win, and I expect him to win comfortably, but you just never know in boxing, especially since Sultan has upset a few guys," said Yafai.
The historic fight will air live on ESPN+ in the United States and on ESPN5 in the Philippines.
"All these Filipino boxers, they really fight with their hearts. I know we're gonna see a great fight." Bob Arum, Top Rank CEO
Arum, who signed Ancajas to a promotional deal late last year, says "loads and loads" of Filipino-Americans have signed up to ESPN+, the over-the-top (OTT) service which will stream the fight exclusively in the United States. He says ESPN was enthusiastic about Top Rank signing Ancajas, despite being in the lower weight classes, due to his TV-friendly style.
"He's so fan-friendly and his fights are so entertaining that he's absolutely great, particularly on television. To get the people at ESPN, who are not really used to fighters of this stature fighting, they were extraordinarily supportive of us going out and signing Jerwin to a long-term contract," said Arum.
Arum balked at any comparison to Pacquiao's popularity in the United States, saying only time would tell if Ancajas, who is fighting for the second time in the U.S., would be able to catch on with the Filipino community and beyond.
"Who knows? All we know is we're gonna give it as big a ride as possible with Ancajas and build him up as much as we can here in the States and around the world," said Arum.
After having promoted the likes of Pacquiao and Donaire, Arum is glad to be part of Filipino boxing history once again.
"All these Filipino boxers, they really fight with their hearts. I know we're gonna see a great fight, and it's always good to be part of history," said Arum.