Jerwin Ancajas failed in his bid to regain the IBF super flyweight belt from Argentina’s Fernando Martinez, who successfully defended his title via unanimous decision, 118-110 (twice) and 119-109, Sunday (Manila time) at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson.
It was basically a repeat of their first encounter in February, where Martinez badly outlanded and outpointed Ancajas 118-110 (twice) and 117-111, to end the Filipino pug’s nearly six-year reign. Ancajas’ camp later explained that he was drained from making weight, which they later attributed to an ill-advised experiment involving immersion in a bath tub filled with salt and alcohol five days before the bout.
There was speculation that Ancajas would move up to 118 pounds, but ultimately he exercised his rematch clause. This time, his camp reported no issues making weight, and they sounded confident that he would regain his belt.
Ancajas started strong and took the fight to Martinez in the first two rounds, but as the fight wore on, the Argentinian champion gradually imposed his will. According to Compubox, both fighters were on even terms after five rounds, with each landing 71 punches. But from rounds 6 to 12, Martinez outlanded Ancajas 170-114. Round 8 was particularly brutal, with Martinez holding a massive 26-11 edge in power punches as Ancajas looked tired and bothered by a cut caused by an accidental head butt in the previous round.
Overall, Martinez connected on 241 out of 674 punched (35.8%) compared to 185/785 for Ancajas (23.6%). When the decision was announced, there were no surprises, although it could be argued that Ancajas won more than the one round awarded by one of the judges. Regardless, the right man won, and Ancajas hugged and congratulated his foe in the ring. He reportedly went to the hospital as a precaution and skipped the post-event press conference.
After failing to regain his IBF belt, what would be the next move of Ancajas? Will he finally move up to bantamweight, where Naoya Inoue is king? Or will he continue to ply his trade at 115, where none of the big guns have seemed even remotely interested fighting him?
A move to 118 would see Ancajas compete in the same weight division as countryman John Riel Casimero, and an all-Filipino clash between the two would certainly be must-see TV. Nonito Donaire is still ranked at this weight level, but the Filipino Flash hasn’t made his future plans known after absorbing a beating at the hands of Inoue earlier this year. Donaire vs. Ancajas would also be interesting.
The Japanese champion Inoue, who holds the WBC, IBF and WBA belts, is looking to be the undisputed bantamweight ruler when he takes on WBO champion Paul Butler in a unification match in December. He’ll like win this bout, and once he has all four belts, all challengers would have to go through him. But should Inoue give up a belt or two or decide to move up to 122, that could open the door for Ancajas to eventually challenge for another belt.
The bantamweight division is loaded, Inoue’s dominance notwithstanding. Aside from Casimero and Donaire, Filipino fighters Reymart Gaballo and Jonas Sultan also compete at this weight level. There’s also Jason Moloney of Australia, Lee McGregor of Great Britain and Gary Antonio Russell of the United States. If Ancajas wants to test the 118 waters, he could fight a lesser opponent first before training his sights on any of these big names. The question is if he can carry his punching power to bantamweight. He landed some pretty big blows against Martinez, including a beautiful uppercut late in the fight, but the Argentinian took them pretty well.
If Ancajas decides to stay at 115, there currently isn’t a clear path to another title shot. He most likely won’t get another shot at Martinez given the one-sided nature of both defeats. And since he’s been affiliated with the IBF for so long, he’s currently not ranked in the top 10 of the three other major boxing bodies. Super flyweight has been home to some of the best fighters of the past five years, and almost of them – Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman Gonzalez, Srisakit Sor Rungvisai, Kazuto Ioka and even Donnie Nietes – have fought at least one of the others. Curiously, during Ancajas’ reign as IBF champion, none of them called out him out for a unification bout. He also never participated in any of the three so-called “super fly” series that ran from 2017 and 2018.
Ancajas is still young enough to eventually challenge for another belt at 115, although the three other champions are certainly no pushovers. Ioka, the WBO champion, recently dealt Nietes his first loss in 18 years. WBC beltholder Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez is a frightening specimen; he’s undefeated in 17 bouts and knocked out Sor Rungvisai last June. WBA king Joshua Franco has perhaps the least impressive resumé, but is still ranked high in most divisional rankings. Should Ancajas opt to stay out at 115, perhaps he’ll need a tune-up fight first to regain his bearings before chasing another belt.