Thursday, May 1, 2014 | 12:59 a.m.
Ana Julaton in Manila
She’s known for punching with the fury of a hurricane. Now she plans to be known for kicking with the force of a tornado.
Las Vegas boxer Ana Julaton flew to the Philippines this week for her debut MMA fight and plans to return here with a victory in time for Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s battle Saturday night. “It’s a mighty fast series of round-trip flights,” the femme-fatale fighter known as “Hurricane” told me.
With Friday night’s debut in Manila in the One FC “Rise of Heroes,” Ana will make global headlines in the battle against a vicious Egyptian opponent. The slugfest will be televised around the world. Although Ana holds a pro boxing record of 13-4-1 with 2 KOs, she wasn’t at all concerned about adding MMA battles to her resume because she worked out at taekwondo and kenpo karate as a 10-year-old.
She won several awards, including Junior Olympics gold medals, when she was 16. Her brother and she trained in South Korea, and it was there that she first switched over to boxing. Now she’s come full circle this week heralded as a major star and hero in Asia. For her first rumble in the ring, she has worked with MMA fighter Gina Carano’s trainer, Chris Ben-Tchavtchavadze.
Ana has won a slew of titles since starting out 10 years ago and captured the WBO Super Bantamweight World Championship and the IBA Super Bantamweight World title. Hours before her overseas flight to Asia, I talked with her about her impressive sports achievements.
Having racked up a nice career in boxing with your hands and wrists, you’re now going to risk your legs and limbs in MMA. That’s a big change, right?
Absolutely, from one demand to the next. Even though I have practiced martial arts since I was a kid, it is a different feel just to practice in a competitive setting. They are two completely different things, but it’s a challenge and an opportunity to push myself as a fighter. The opportunity is there, and I just want to live in the moment.
And you’re doing it pretty much on the world stage. Not just America, but Asia, Down Under and more.
Yes, as a female fighter, I feel in the combat sports world, it’s done great outside the United States. The Philippines has been my biggest supporter since the beginning, since I was an amateur boxer, and just to be able to have this stage and to have the full impact of Asia, it’s a dream come true, a homecoming.
It’s the right fit for me, and I’m living it day by day and living in the moment. I’m just happy to have this opportunity and at the end of the day I get to do what I love: Fighting!
How have you had to change your schedule of workouts in boxing to practice in MMA?
I think it just all worked out, it was just so organic. When I first started training in Las Vegas, I was training at UNLV with coach Chris Ben. He has a big influence in the MMA world. He’s worked with Gina Carano and Kim Couture. He’s always had that background.
I’ve always been around him and a lot of my sparring partners, too, for boxing have different backgrounds in different arts like wrestling, Jujitsu, Muay Thai. It’s nice to have that comfort zone of knowing these people I work with for the past couple of years and have them show me the other skills.
For the past several weeks, we’ve just been breaking down the arts, breaking down the techniques to the basic elements. I’m slowly mixing it with boxing roughly first, then boxing Muay Thai and boxing Jujitsu. Even though it’s hard and really demanding, it brings out my inner child because my first passion has always been martial arts. I got into boxing because of martial arts. I feel like I’ve almost come full circle.
I understand because it was your dad who originally trained you, right?
Yes. He showed me a couple of the basic stances in martial arts and at that age I just felt like I knew it was something I always wanted to do for the rest of my life. I remember being in school, third grade, fifth grade, and the teachers asking us what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I remember writing reports of wanting to be a samurai or a ninja or a fighter. And decades later here I am. I’m getting to live my dream.
It’s always rude to ask a lady her age, but when you’re in the public spotlight, we know what it is. So how old is 33 in terms of MMA?
For me personally, and just from my background in martial arts, I feel like when you have age under your belt, it’s an advantage. When you live in the martial arts, you live a certain way, you have this healthy lifestyle, you keep your body healthy, you keep your mind healthy, and everything around you is healthy. In terms of preventing injury or putting yourself in a medical downward spiral, it prevents you from doing something like that.
As you get older, you get more experience and are able to apply yourself a lot better. If you’re in your 30s or even 40s, it’s still OK. We have a lot of MMA fighters in their 40s. You understand your body, you understand yourself a lot more, and when you look at your younger adversaries, your opponents, then you can almost see yourself in them because you remember what it was like at that moment in your own life.
They’re probably at this stage in their training because you’ve gotten to do your research and see what their habits are and what may be influencing them at that point in their life, and as an older practitioner or fighter, you can almost take advantage of that, you can almost lead them into thinking they’re doing something, but really you’re leading them into doing something else.
There is a definite advantage to the experience. In the sports world, technology has gotten better. We have a lot more medical advances that help individuals continue training and keep pushing their body toward the limit, so I feel like I’m in the perfect place. This is the perfect time for me to do something like this.
What is the name and reputation of the other woman who you are fighting?
Her name is Aya Saeid, and she is representing Egypt. She is the kickboxing champion all over the Middle East. She has an extensive background in striking. She has five MMA fights already. In her last fight last month, she won via submission. She’s young, she’s confident, and she’s gunning for me.
It’s always been a whole lot of pressure for me, everyone guns for me because I am always able to bring the experience level up there. I bring my name, I bring everything I have built up from the past on to the opportunity for anyone whether it’s Aya or me going out for a world title, whomever wants to take me out, because they want what I have.
For me, even though it’s my debut, I feel like it’s a title fight because this girl’s trying to rip my head off, and I’m trying to stop her from doing it so I can rip her head off. The fight is Friday night in Manila, which means it would be showing in America on Thursday midnight because of the time change.
So you have only five days to fly, get over jetlag and train?
Yes, and get used to the altitude, the weather, the humidity and all the media. Right now I’m living this terrible diet of nothing but protein, trying to cut water out, and I have to put a smile on my face and tell the press how you can lead a healthy lifestyle. And then the next day look at my opponent in the face after weigh-ins and give her the stare down and then beat her down the next day.
It’s challenging, but it’s fun. I feel like I am able to expose both sides of myself and experience that within a fraction of a second where I can smile and be upset and just kind of metabolize it and digest it mentally and emotionally and then just while I’m juggling all of that, I then have to be me at the end of it. It’s a pretty fun roller coaster ride, and then straight back to Las Vegas in time for the Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight.
With this first MMA fight for you in the Philippines, does it mean you are giving up boxing?
Oh, no. The great thing about this is that they allow me to do dual sports, so I can do MMA and I can continue boxing with my boxing promoter, Alan Tremblay from Orion. It’s a kickass opportunity. I’m going to beat my body down because I know that one day it is all going to end. So I’m just going to keep trying until I can’t anymore. It may sound as if I am out of my mind, but you only live once.
My health is good, I’m feeling good, and I’m feeling confident. I’m ready to go. Ronny Turiaf from the Minnesota Timberwolves will be in my corner for support, and a lot of people from the Philippines are obviously coming out to watch the fight. I’ve got a solid team.
When we first met, we talked a little bit about how there weren’t many opportunities for female boxers, and I’m guessing there weren’t many opportunities for female MMA stars. It’s changed, though, hasn’t it over the past six years?
Tremendously. I guess if it makes money, it makes sense. I’m getting more boxing and more MMA, and that’s a good thing.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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