The Next Phenom?

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“Phenoms” (sports shorthand for “phenomenon”) have been a part of boxing lore almost from the start. The first one, in my memory, was Coley Wallace, a heavyweight who came storming out of the New York Golden Gloves where he had a decision over Rocky Marciano. Wallace’s professional career was a bit less distinguished and, at the time of his death in 2005, he was probably best remembered for his portrayal of the title character in a seldom recalled movie, The Joe Louis Story and for reprising that role for a bit part in Raging Bull. In later years, I can still recall a tired, old boxing lifer, in a tired, old gym on North Charles Street in Baltimore, telling me about a kid who was “Coca-Cola in the ring.” Ray Leonard was, indeed, “the real thing,” even though I always felt he violated at least one boxing commandment (thou shalt not imitate gods) with his nickname. Boxing phenoms have been around a long time and they’ve had varied careers and have traveled diverse paths towards different ends. And, as befits the twenty-first century, one of the latest phenoms may be a twenty-seven-year-old female fighter out of Daly City, CA.

Ana Julaton made her professional debut on November 2 after a thirty plus-bout amateur career and she did so with an eye catching style common to boxing phenoms, she started part way up the ladder. Julaton began her pro career against a very tough, veteran fighter, Rita Valentini, who came to the bout with 11 pro fights (6-5) against some of the top boxers in the featherweight division, most notably Jeannine Garside. Julaton put Valentini on the canvas twice, in the four round bout, with an overhand right in the opening round and a picture perfect left hook in the fourth. Asked about any trepidation she may have felt beginning her pro career against such an experienced fighter, Julaton replied, by phone from California, “No, I think my amateur career prepared me well. I, honestly, felt more intimidated the first time I stepped into the ring in the amateurs. I came out of (the Valentini bout) really looking forward to my next fight.”

One additional indication of Ana Julaton’s possible status as a phenom is the trainer in her corner. Freddie Roach’s experience with Women’s boxing is not particularly extensive, but it has been highlighted with high quality fighters, starting with his work with Lucia Rijker. “I’m so glad to have him (Roach) to work with,” Julaton professes, “he has so much experience and knowledge of the sport. I really have to calm myself down when he’s around, so I don’t miss anything he’s saying. I want to absorb everything.” There’s little doubt that the fact Roach has decided to work with Ana Julaton is a clear message to the rest of boxing community that Julaton may be poised to become a major factor in the sport of Women’s boxing.

Angelo Reyes, Julaton’s manager, notes that “Freddie (currently) has Ana as a super bantamweight (122 lbs) and may eventually move (her) down to 118.” The 118-126 pound division may be the deepest talent class in the sport and it has the potential of providing some of the most compelling match-ups in Women’s boxing. Currently competing at, or around, that weight are such talented fighters as Alica Ashley, Melinda Cooper, Jackie Nava, Marcella Acuna and Kelsey Jeffries. And two fighters, Ronica Jeffrey and Emily Klinefelter, will make their pro debuts early in 2008, after respective outstanding amateur careers. Julaton hopes to be active in the first quarter of the new year and when asked about specific opponents, she replies, “No one in particular, I just want to fight as often as possible and I’m willing to step in with anyone who’s out there. Winning is important, but competing is really what this sport has to be about. Women’s boxing will advance only when the best fighters compete against one another on a regular basis. I’m ready.”

Measuring a fighter for the mantle of a phenom is its own kind of intense pressure. Ana Julaton sounds as though she’s prepared to deal with whatever comes her way, as far as the sport of boxing is concerned. “My amateur career provided me with a lot of good experience, not only in the ring against well trained, experienced boxers, but that time also taught me how to prepare for and approach a big bout. I boxed Ronica Jeffrey out here (the Bay Area) in May and it was a huge happening, all kinds of local celebrities and boxing people attended and it really built up into a big event. It was a great experience and a lot of fun (Jeffrey won a close decision). She (Jeffrey) is a great fighter and I look forward to fighting her again along with many others in the weight class.”

There’s no question that Ana Julaton’s professional debut against a tough, experienced fighter like Rita Valentini was an impressive beginning. It certainly was a distant remove from the conventional professional debut in which the expression “two left feet” is not an uncommon description for a first opponent. Rita Valentini is more than a couple of levels above the conventional and Julaton won the bout handily. Additionally, the fact that Freddie Roach is in Julaton’s corner is significant. Roach is not a guy who wastes his time in the business he’s made his life. He’s always had a keen eye for boxing talent and is usually found close to such talent. That seems to be the case with Ana Julaton. Of course, only time and fights against top-flight competition will determine if Julaton is, indeed, the next “Coca-Cola” in the sport of Women’s boxing. Her career will, undoubtedly, track somewhere between those distant paths of Coley Wallace and Ray Leonard but based on early returns, the chances of Ana Julaton becoming “the real thing” appear to be a real possibility.

Photo of Ana Julaton, courtesy of Femme Fan

By Bernie McCoy


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