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Filipino vs Filipino: Good or bad?

The word is out that IBF super-flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas will fight IBF Inter-Continental super-fly champion Jonas Sultan in June. Last week, Ancajas made his US debut in Corpus Christi, Texas and stopped the formidable challenger Israel Gonzalez in the 10th round. Sultan has held his inter-continental belt since December of 2016, and has beaten past world champions on his way up the rankings. Much as the match-up has international fans smacking their lips, some Filipino sports media and columnists are shaking their heads.

What’s the problem? Both boxers are Filipino.

It is very rare that two Filipino fighters compete for the same world title. In fact, it hasn’t happened since 1995. When you think about it, it’s actually unusual that more Pinoy pugs don’t fight each other. Some take it as a waste, that one worthy Filipino challenger will have to fall by the wayside since there can be only one champion. Some stables even coerce some of their prospects to move up in weight to avoid future clashes with their stablemates. Looking at the big picture, it is actually a good sign when Filipino boxers crowd at the top. Here’s why.

Filipino fighters are getting better. Look at the numbers. More Filipino boxers are world champions and title contenders now than in the past. This is due to a combination of better training, improved nutrition, stricter regulation, and greater exposure. Of course, there are still those who travel in the guise of tourists to fight abroad illegally, but mostly, Filipinos are getting more opportunities, also due to an absence of compelling rivalries in higher weight classes.

It’s part of the job. In the open market in other fields, you don’t bother to check someone’s nationality when they’re after your job. When auditioning for a role on Broadway or the West End, you don’t care who else is trying out. You just do your best to beat them. Same principle. The path narrows at the top. It’s just the way things are.

It happens all the time in boxing in general. Americans fight Americans for world titles all the time. In lower weight classes, Mexicans fight Mexicans regularly. And in the Philippines, who else would you fight for the Philippine title and many of the Orient-Pacific Boxing Federation (OPBF) and regional belts? It is unavoidable for Filipinos to fight Filipinos. Asians are generally the same size, which explains why Japan, Thailand and the Philippines have produced multiple world champions in boxing.

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It happens in other sports. In individual sports like billiards, bowling and so on, you will inevitably face off against another Filipino. It is a source of pride. And it is actually more of a waste if they eliminate one another in the semifinals of a tournament. In basketball, there are Filipinos playing each other all over Southeast Asia, as the ASEAN Basketball League has proven. There are Filipinos coaching in places as disparate as Vietnam, the Middle East, Brunei and the Maldives. Should they roll over if they face another Filipino coach? In the NBA just a few days ago, twins Marcus Morris of the Boston Celtics and Markieff Morris of the Washington Wizards played against each other, and it was all business when the game started. Brothers will end up playing against brothers in the PBA, NCAA and UAAP. You have to find your own place, regardless who you’re up against.

Amateur boxing has evolved. The new similarity of amateur boxing rules to pro rules has made the path to turning pro easier. First, since there’s no more headgear, the public sees your face. Secondly, there is more of an emphasis on power. Mike Tyson was eliminated from the US Olympic team precisely because he had a “pro” style. Now, that would work in his favor.

The impending clash between Ancajas and Sultan is a good thing, putting sentiment aside. It proves two things: that Filipinos are good enough to be both champion and contender, and that they will give their all, no matter who you put in front of them.

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