'Pretty Boy' Ancajas poised to inherit mantle from Pacquiao as PH boxing's poster boy
The future of PH boxing looks good with 'Pretty Boy' Jerwin Ancajas on the rise. Gerry Ramos

OUT with the old, in with the new.

The New Year credo perfectly captures the impending changing of the guard in Philippine pro boxing. The popular opinion is that the ‘passing of the baton’ will take place this year, with International Boxing Federation (IBF) junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) champion Jerwin ‘Pretty Boy’ Ancajas leading the charge.

It is a natural progression in sports; the young blood comes in, learns from the master and down the road takes the master’s place. After lording it over the fight scene for over a decade, the career of boxing icon Manny Pacquiao is clearly winding down, paving the way for Ancajas and other promising beak-busters to take over.

Last year was not really a good one for Philippine pro boxing and the young guns arguably cannot wait to make up for the subpar showing. By the end of 2017, only Ancajas and flyweight Donnie Nietes remained entrenched in their thrones. In April, slugger Marlon Tapales showed up overweight in his title defense against Japanese Shohei Omori and was stripped of his WBO bantamweight (118 lbs.) title. In May, Milan Melindo knocked out Japanese Akira Yaegashi to win the IBF junior flyweight (108 lbs.) plum, but he was an ex-world champ before 2017 could end, dropping a decision to WBA champion Ryoichi Taguchi on December 31.

A jaded Pacquiao yielded the WBO welterweight (147 lbs.) title to Australian Jeff Horn in July and shelved a proposed December rematch. Nietes, the country’s longest-reigning world champ, became a three-division champion by collaring the vacant IBF flyweight (112 lbs.) title in September, but ‘Ahas’ only remained a champion because he opted to take the remainder of the year off. Nietes is already 35 years old and has not really looked good since moving up to the 112-pound class. He is booked to defend the title against Argentina’s Juan Carlos Reveco but regardless of the result, the proud son of Murcia, Negros Occidental is likely to pack up his bags this year.

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Throughout the year, the most consistent performer was Ancajas. The 26-year-old native of Panabo City, Davao del Norte made three successful defenses of the IBF junior bantamweight title, stopping Jose Alfredo Rodriguez in Macau, Teiru Kinoshita in Brisbane and Jamie Conlan in Belfast. So good was Ancajas that by the end of the year, Top Rank Promotions inked him to a six-fight deal.

Ancajas (28-1-1, 19 knockouts), who won the IBF title in September 2016, has won his last 15 fights, 14 within the distance.

“He is a very exciting fighter, all action,” mused Top Rank head honcho Bob Arum.

Ancajas’ deal with Top Rank kicks off on February 3, when he makes his US debut opposite untested Mexican Israel Rodriguez (21-1, 8 knockouts). Rodriguez, who still figured in two eight-round fights last year, is a soft touch tipped to give Ancajas a rousing introduction before American fight fans.

The junior bantamweight division emerged as one of the hottest divisions last year, with formidable champions like WBC champ Sriksaket Sor Rungvisai (44-4, 40 knockouts) of Thailand and WBO champ Naoya Inoue (15-0, 13 knockouts) shining alongside Ancajas. With Ancajas joining Top Rank, he will get the exposure he badly needs.

Ancajas leads a pack of young, gloved wolves that include featherweight ‘Magnifico’ Mark Magsayo (22 years old, 18-0, 13 knockouts), lightweight Romero ‘Ruthless’ Duno (22 years old, 15-1, 13 knockouts) and junior bantamweight Aliston Palicte Jr. (26 years old, 24-2, 20 knockouts). Not to be crossed out is Tapales (25 years old, 30-2, 13 knockouts) who figures to return to action this year, and Genesis Servania (26 years old, 30-1, 13 knockouts) who revived his career after he rumbled with gusto opposite WBO featherweight king Oscar Valdez in September.

Pacquiao, Nietes and Nonito Donaire Jr. (who is poised to take on slugger Carl Frampton on April 7) are just about ready to take their place in the pantheon of Philippine boxing greats. Still, the future of Philippine boxing looks pretty good, just ask ‘Pretty Boy’ Jerwin.

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Follow the writer on Twitter: @edtolentino