She hardly speaks a word of Tagalog, but when Lupang Hinirang played, the soul-stirring melody brought tears to Ana’s eyes.
“During Pacquiao and Morales’s second bout, I started crying when I heard the Philippine national anthem. I was moved,” Ana Julaton says, recalling the moment during the much-awaited rematch in Las Vegas four years ago that paved the way for Manny Pacquiao’s reign as the World Boxing Council’s super featherweight champion.
Julaton, who was trained by Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach, and is currently under Nonito Donaire, Sr.’s guidance, bagged the International Boxing Association super-bantamweight belt in September 2009, and became the first female World Boxing Organization Super Bantamweight champion late last year. She unfortunately lost the title to Lisa Brown just last week. Despite the defeat, she has already accomplished quite a lot since her professional debut only two years ago.
As to why she is known in boxing circles as “The Hurricane,” Julaton explains, “There are two stories as to how I got my name. Every time I would compete in an amateur boxing match, people found it hard to pronounce my last name (HOO-la-ton), which I found offensive. So one of my teammates thought, why not ‘Hurricane’ since it sounded similar? After, I was known for throwing a lot of punches in so the name ‘Hurricane’ stuck,” she says.
But even as she rains punches on her opponents, she does get her share of them as well. Her family couldn’t bear to see her slugging it out in the early years of her boxing career. “They all wondered at the beginning what was I getting into. It was tough for them to see me in the ring. But now they’re very supportive and I’ve tuned them into boxing,” Julaton says.
Her father is Cesar Julaton of Pampanga; her mother Ahmelia Bonifacio of Manila. Her father came to the US when he was just two years old, while her mom migrated much later. The two met in the US and married. Julaton has a younger brother also named Cesar.
ENTER THE HURRICANE
Julaton’s entry into boxing came by way of the martial arts known as Bok-fu, which her father introduced to her when she was 10.
“I loved it. I had really good teachers. Bok-fu is a non-flashy form of self-defense. I would even say it’s a discipline. It definitely taught me the attitude that I’ve developed. Bok-fu teaches patience; common sense. Whenever there’s a challenge, some people don’t know how to do it. Bok- fu teaches you how to devise a plan and execute it,” she says. “As a woman, I never want to see myself in a situation where I can’t defend myself,” she adds.
In college, Julaton enrolled in a course in sports science but dropped out and chose instead to pursue Bok-fu, which she now teaches. “Teaching Bok-fu is one of my life’s dreams. I wanted to be a ‘karate kid,’” she recounts. Her students are of all ages—from five to 55. She found Bok-fu’s concepts of learning to control one’s mind, body, posture and focus in Bok-fu versatile. The discipline also taught her to be more open to others, and to boxing.
“I always thought boxing was an ego game—two guys duking it out. It seemed terrible. But I had an instructor who started incorporating it (boxing) into Bok-fu. He got me to try the class.
“I saw our instructor was passionate about boxing. He wanted to work with athletes who take their craft seriously. I saw his energy and enthusiasm. He broke down the technical aspects of boxing and incorporated it into Bok-fu. That’s when I realized that boxing was a skill and I could be good at it,” she recounts.
BREAKING THE MOLD
Julaton remembers training for only two weeks before her coaches threw her into the ring in February 2004. “The best lesson was to just go in and do it. That bout went well. I didn’t win the match but it was a close decision,” she says. She went on to win and defend state and national championships in the amateur league, and placed as high as the Number 2 female boxer in the US before deciding to turn professional three years later in June 2007.
Her turning pro came amid a realization that the sporting world had yet to drop its biases against women’s boxing and give it proper recognition. This, even as boxing great Muhammad Ali’s daughter, Laila Ali, followed in her father’s footsteps. Ali holds the women’s supermiddleweight world titles. “I’d love to meet Laila Ali. She’s done great things for the sport by choosing boxing and showing how it can be empowering for women,” Julaton says.
Julaton made it her cause to further the sport, which is the only one in the Olympics not to have a female counterpart.
A month before going pro, she and another rival held a bout that was promoted amid great fanfare. Julaton was overwhelmed by the support the match received from the professional leagues in the other sports such as basketball. “They understood the cause; even the competing radio stations banded together to promote it. It was an East Coast vs. West Coast bout but it was so positive and it made a big splash. Even if I didn’t win, we got to do what we set out to do,” she says.
The lessons she took in stride were even greater. “Accepting defeat is one of the biggest lessons I had to learn. I’m not like others in that once they reach failure, they don’t want to continue or grow out of it. With every loss there is a turning point.”
“My mom wanted me to be respectful of Filipino culture so she enrolled me in a Filipino school in kindergarten in San Francisco. I was there up to the third grade,” she says. Being born and raised American, Julaton found few Filipino-American role models she could look up to. She recalled how her paternal grandfather, who first came to the US to enlist in the army by faking his age as 18 when he was only 16, had to contend with racial prejudice.
“It’s only recently that Filipino-Americans are starting to promote themselves and be proud of what they have achieved. If I do well enough (in professional boxing) I’d like to put action into being proud to be Filipino,” she declares.
Julaton knows the body has its limits. When asked where she sees herself in five years, it’s in the field of media. “I’d like to see myself having established a reputation of credibility, doing sports shows and commentaries, and promoting women’s boxing.”
On a personal note, she says “eventually, I’d like to get married though I can’t think of it right now.” And diminish that thought of women boxers as Amazons on testosterone overload. She says, “I can be a very girly-girl. I love fashion. I read [fashion] magazines. I don’t have a lot of girl friends, though, and it gets tough—I have no one to talk about fashion with,” she says.
“My fashion sense is complicated. I dress according to my mood. I can get all classy and dolled up; but most of the time, I’m in sweats and sports outfits. But when I go out to a restaurant or lounge I can go out in a skirt,” she adds.
Julaton clearly enjoys being a woman in a male-stereotyped sport but she hopes her love for boxing inspires fellow Filipinas to break the mold. “There are so many reasons to go out and choose what we want to choose; so many things, relationships and it’s hard to stick to one thing, something you’re passionate about. Don’t quit.”
We’ll bet she won’t. And we long for the day when we can sing Lupang Hinirang at a championship she wins soon.
(First published in Marie Claire, March 2008; photos used with permission from Ana Julaton)