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Hurricane Ana: From boxing to MMA, Julaton stirs up up a storm

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Ahead of her return to Manila for One FC: Warrior’s Way, ANA JULATON talks about learning from grappling legend Ricky Lundell, training with fellow Filipino-American Brandon Vera, the fun of fighting in the Philippines and why she’s so desperate for a re-match with Malaysian rival Ann Osman.

 

December 1, 2014: Ana Julaton is preparing for another hero’s welcome this Friday as she returns to Manila’s Mall of Asia Arena for One FC: Warrior’s Way, where she’ll be armed with a new-look ground game as she takes on Egypt’s Walaa Abbas.

 

A world champion boxer as recently as 2012, Julaton’s transition to MMA this year completes what the 34-year-old Filipino American calls a ‘full circle’, having been a martial arts instructor before boxing.

 

Born in San Francisco and spending most of her life in the Bay Area, Julaton is a black belt in both taekwondo – which she started learning when she was 10 – and bok fu, a style of Kenpo karate. Having taken up bok fu in February 2000, she earned a black belt at her third attempt, in December 2009, fresh from winning two boxing world titles.

 

Amazingly, Julaton only took up boxing at the age of 23, when she was a martial arts instructor at West Wind School in Berkeley. Boxing was introduced to the martial arts school at the beginning of 2004 and Julaton grudgingly accepted – with persuasion from boxing coach Angelo Reyes – that she had to learn to teach it.

 

A new passion was sparked. Within weeks she won silver at the San Francisco Golden Gloves and the following year won bronze in the National Golden Gloves at 125 pounds. In 2007 she won silver in the US Championship and was the country’s No. 2-ranked amateur before turning pro, going on to train with Freddie Roach, Manny Pacquiao’s coach, at Wild Card in Hollywood.

 

Julaton won IBA and WBO world titles in 2009, having turned pro in 2007.

Julaton won IBA and WBO world titles in 2009, having turned pro in 2007.

In September 2009, Julaton won the IBA super bantamweight title and then trained with Nonito Donaire Sr before winning the WBO belt in early December. A champion was born, celebrated in the Bay Area and the US but also in the Philippines, the homeland of her parents.

 

Julaton – who chose the nickname ‘Hurricane’ to help people pronounce her surname correctly – both retained the IBA title and won the vacant WBO belt in June 2010. The following year, she relocated to Las Vegas and successfully defended the WBO belt in Canada and Mexico. In March 2012, she lost the WBO belt in Argentina, then fought four pro bouts in Mexico, with her most recent win in November 2013 giving her a 13-4-1 pro record.

 

In April this year, One FC announced that Julaton was joining the Asia-based MMA promotion and she made her pro MMA debut in Manila the following month, beating Egyptian kickboxing champion Aya Saeid Saber by TKO (punches) in the third round.

 

In Dubai in August, Julaton was unhappy after losing a split decision to Malaysian star Ann Osman. Recognising gaps in her ground game, Julaton started training with wrestling guru Ricky Lundell at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.

 

Julaton continues to train for boxing under Reyes at MPowerhouze in Los Angeles, where former UFC heavyweight Brandon Vera recently brushed up on his skills ahead of his One FC debut in Warrior’s Way.

 

Interview SportAsia

 

Julaton is a crowd favourite at the Mall of Asia Arena, where she won her One FC debut in May. Photo: One FC.

Julaton is a crowd favourite at the Mall of Asia Arena, where she won her One FC debut in May. Photo: One FC.

Your first One FC fight was at the Mall of Asia Arena, where you’ll be fighting on Friday. What’s the atmosphere like?

Oh, it’s electrifying. It’s just amazing. You can’t imagine. It’s 20,000 deep and people are just screaming and yelling, and it feels like everyone knows … it feels like family. It feels like home away from home. I’m going over there and I walk into the arena and it’s crazy and I’m giving complete strangers high‑fives. We’re hugging and we’re talking about the fight, and we’re just talking like we actually know each other, so it’s a pretty cool feeling to have. What also brings it together is having a fight card full of Filipinos.

 

Do you still have close family in the Philippines?

A lot of family on my dad’s side are in Pangasinan. A lot of them still live in Pozorrubio and that province. A lot of them on my mom’s side migrated over to the United States already. For this fight coming up, I’m sure a lot of them are going to tune in.

 

What were your first memories of MMA?

I remember watching the early stages of UFC over 20 years ago. I was a teenager and I thought it was interesting, the whole element of being able to use your punches, your elbows, your knees, ground fighting and all that stuff put together. It almost felt like watching movies, but live.

 

I’ve always had an interest in martial arts. I did martial arts since I was 10 years old and I got into boxing because of martial arts, so I feel like having the opportunity to fight for One FC, it came to a full circle. I wouldn’t have it any other way because it’s my life passion and I feel real lucky to be pursuing this and making this my career.

 

Is there an added attraction fighting for One FC, a sports property dedicated to promoting MMA in Asia?

Yeah, no doubt, and I thought what was kind of cool is that Victor Cui (CEO of One FC) is also a fellow Filipino. So I think it’s kind of neat for Filipinos to see another Filipino businessman running a business and also being able to coordinate with another businessman in Manny Pacquiao also joining with One FC.

 

For me, I think it’s just an interesting time where Filipinos are starting to get more involved in different sports. Filipinos usually do boxing or basketball and now we’re moving into MMA and hopefully we’ll have more opportunities to do different sports. But I think this is kind of a cool way to see a more versatile Filipino. Even in ice-skating, we have Michael Martinez representing the Philippines. He’s an awesome, awesome guy, too. (Martinez was 17 when he was only athlete to represent the Philippines at the Winter Olympics in February.)

 

Did you watch the last Manny Pacquiao fight against Chris Algieri?

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I trained under the same roof as he did. I watched his last fight and I thought he was brilliant. He showed great boxing skills against a bigger guy. He showed what skill and will can do in the ring.

 

Julaton has recently learnt wrestling from Ricky Lundell at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. Photo: Anajulaton.com.

Julaton has learnt wrestling from Ricky Lundell at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. Photo: Anajulaton.com.

You’ve been working with wrestling coach Ricky Lundell since losing a split decision to Ann Osman in August. How different was his wrestling and groundwork training for you, a pro boxer who has black belts in taekwondo and bok fu?

It’s totally different. Ricky just broke everything down. He is the grappling world champion and received his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu second-degree black belt from Pedro Sauer. He was then coached [at Iowa State University] by Cael Sanderson, who’s one of the best wrestlers in the world. So in terms of the grappling aspect of it, I don’t question it. Coach Lundell really has the experience and he also has the knowledge to explain it effectively as an MMA coach.

 

I’ve been formally working on the offensive aspects of it and the defensive, as well. And to go back and forth between grappling and jiu‑jitsu, it’s pretty intense mentally, but on a physical level, the way my team has been able to explain it to me, it sounds exactly like how fighting should be.

 

Considering you’ve been a world champion in boxing, was it hard to take a few steps back and allow yourself to be taught from scratch in a new discipline?

Absolutely, but I think that’s what any champion has to have. They have to know how to change and you have to get out of your comfort zone. When me and my boxing coach, Angelo [Reyes], first met Coach Lundell, we went into Bishop Gorman High School. I was like, ‘what am I going to do with a bunch of kids’, versus when we actually got in there and it was pretty mind blowing.

 

Julaton with former boxing coach Freddie Roach.

Julaton with boxing coach Freddie Roach. Photo: Twitter.

I understand what it takes to train at the world‑class level, having been able to work with Freddie Roach in the past and watching Manny Pacquiao and being able to watch Floyd Mayweather do his camps and also getting to work with Roger Mayweather for one of my boxing camps.

 

What I saw there in Bishop Gorman High School was the exact same thing, except you have a whole bunch of these young athletes who are starting fresh. They don’t have any previous experience to fall back on, so they don’t question themselves.

 

I had to humble myself in a sense that I’ve been with the best in the world and yet here I am with a bunch of kids and just have to look into it deeper and understand the methodology behind it. We got to develop a relationship with Coach Lundell and his wrestling coaches, and everything just kind of took off, so we were really lucky everything happened the way it did.

 

Why did you move to Las Vegas from Daly City (just south of San Francisco)?

I’ve only been living here for a couple of years; basically since I started fighting internationally for boxing. I had to get used to the outdoor climate. The heat out here in Las Vegas is incredible and dry, and also the altitude is high, as well. It’s the fight capital of the world. You have some of the best boxers out here and you have some of the best MMA fighters out here, and you have the biggest fight companies also located out here. I think it’s a great arena for fighters to train at.

 

You’ve also continued training with Angelo Reyes at MPowerhouze in Los Angeles, where Brandon Vera joined you as he prepares for Manila. Did you know Brandon?

No, it was actually my first time meeting him. It was pretty fun. I’ve known of him over the years when he fought for the UFC and I knew he had a Muay Thai background.

 

The first time we met, we met at MPowerhouze. The guy running it, his name is George [Tanon Edillor] and he was like the top security for Manny Pacquiao, so it’s kind of funny how everything kind of connects together in that sense. We all got to work in that gym and we all got to share ideas and concepts. We got to train and get to know each other a little bit, so it was pretty fun.

 

Ana Julaton and Brandon Vera both trained under boxing coach Angelo Reyes at MPowerhouze in Los Angeles ahead of One FC: Warrior’s Way in Manila. Photo: Anajulaton.com.

Brandon Vera joined Julaton as both trained under boxing coach Angelo Reyes at MPowerhouze in Los Angeles ahead of One FC: Warrior’s Way in Manila. Photo: Anajulaton.com.

Like you, Brandon is an American of Filipino descent. Are you expecting him to have a good reception in the Philippines as he makes his One FC debut?

Oh, yeah, absolutely. It’s funny, because he’s a big guy. He’s a heavyweight and he’s very muscular. He’s a fighter, but he has a lot of Filipino mannerisms, so it’s kind of interesting to see him talking Tagalog and speaking with the elders. He’s like a gentle giant. It’s a pretty interesting dichotomy, but it’s pretty cool.

 

As an American of Filipino descent, how do view yourself?

I definitely feel like an American who’s Filipino. It’s interesting because there are a lot of values that you still want to know of and be aware of and still practise. I think what’s cool is that Filipinos are found all over the world. I fought in Dubai and there was like thousands of Filipinos there. Everywhere I go, there always seems to be someone who knows a Filipino.

 

It’s important to me to always remember that and not stray too far away from who I am because I also feel like – since I am Filipino American, since I do speak English – I can also represent Filipino Canadians, Filipinos from Europe, those who speak English a lot.

 

There are a lot Filipinos who can’t speak Tagalog because they’re overseas and sometimes in their environment it doesn’t necessarily fit with the lifestyle, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t practise the culture and they don’t practise the respect. I feel like I bring that kind of element, where I’d like to connect Filipinos in the Philippines and Filipinos abroad whenever they watch my fight.

 

Were you unhappy with the decision against Ann Osman in August?

I think at the time, absolutely. I mean, before I was working with Ricky Lundell, I looked at it through a boxer’s eye. With my experience of fighting, a lot of it has to do with how much can you counter your opponent, obviously skilfully, so at that time when I was put into the armbar and she didn’t complete it, I felt like it was a failed attempt.

 

Julaton (left) was disappointed after losing a split decision to Ann Osman in Dubai in August.

Julaton (left) was disappointed after losing a split decision to Ann Osman in Dubai in August. Photo: One FC.

And so me being able to just counter with my foot … I had my heel sitting on her face and my other foot control her other arm, I negated the whole submission attempt. Just little things like that. Obviously I’ve been working with Coach Lundell and Angelo on having an overall picture. I think what’s nice is now I have more of an MMA eye; but I still have my boxing instinct, like my boxing fight experience, so it’s a pretty unique time.

 

How much do you want a rematch and would you be confident of a victory?

I would say, let’s do it. Let’s do it right away. I think this is something that people all over Asia would want to watch. I feel like I have unfinished business. I feel like I really got to do a lot of damage in that fight and I feel like she’s never experienced anything like that before – anyone retaliating against an armbar or punches from an actual world‑class boxer.

 

With just a little bit more training and having a little more technique where I can be a little more effective with my boxing in the cage, it’s something I definitely want to do. It’s something I hope to do in my next fight. I think a lot of people would get excited about it. You know, there’s no problem on my end. Coach Reyes and Coach Lundell, they’re all looking forward to that fight. I would say let’s do it.

 

Ann herself been getting a lot of attention, as a female fighter from Malaysia and a Muslim. Do you think One FC and MMA overall are doing a good job in bringing out sporting role models in sectors of society that were not always represented?

Oh, absolutely. I think just being able to have a stage and have a message always helps. She’s able to utilise One FC and One FC is able to offer that platform for a fighter like her. And I think it’s great for both male and female fighters, and I think it will help create more opportunities in the future. But I think it will be better for her in terms of PR also having a rematch with me – but that’s just my fighting spirit coming out!

 

Overall, what do you think is the perception of women’s fighting and MMA? It now appears an integral part of most fight cards in One FC.

I think it’s great. I can’t wait to see more and more of that. I would love to see title fights starting to happen for female fighters in One FC. I would like to be the first one.

 

Fighting is such an interesting sport where, male or female, you’ve still got to bring it.  You’ve still got to be skilled. I feel like with women having more opportunities, they can showcase their skills. I think a lot more people will get involved, not only publically, but also internally where the camps will start to put in more time and effort with their female fighters. I think it’s a great thing. I think it’s great for the sport and I look forward to bigger and better things soon.

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