Ana Julaton jumps into MMA cage

Ana “The Hurricane” Julaton is best known for her skills inside the boxing ring.

The San Francisco-born beauty has gained growing popularity by fighting both locally and internationally, becoming the first Filipino-American boxer to win the IBA and WBO women’s junior featherweight championships in 2009 with only eight fights under her belt.

But before she first laced up a pair of boxing gloves, Julaton (13-4-1, 2 KOs) honed her craft in martial arts for over 20 years, earning black belts in both Taekwondo and Kenpo karate.

Julaton became a fan of martial arts when she was four years old. Now, almost 30 years later, she will return to those roots when she makes her women’s mixed martial arts debut at ONE Fighting Championship’s “Rise of Heroes” event on May 2 in Manila.

Julaton told SFBay that she is beyond excited to realize her dream of fighting in the Philippines, where she will literally have an entire country in her corner:

“Victor [Cui, CEO of ONE FC] is passionate about the fighting arts and the fighters. He offered me an exclusive deal with ONE FC and allowed me to continue with my boxing career. The opportunity to be a two-sport fighter is incredible and I will be the first fighter to do that.”

Julaton is scheduled to face Egyptian kickboxing champion Aya Saeid Saber in a flyweight bout. Saber has been competing in MMA for almost two years, but has lost three straight fights since winning her October 2012 debut under the Egyptian Fighting Championship.

She recently rebounded by defeating Aya Rashdan via first-round choke submission March 29.

Despite her record, Saber stated in a recent interview that her experience ultimately favors her. She said she looks forward to welcoming Julaton to the sport by handing her a disappointing defeat.

Julaton, however, believes that Saeid and her team should reevaluate their game plan if they expect the fight to be a walk in the park since Julaton has honed her fighting craft for many years.

With over 90 percent market share in Asia, ONE FC is not only Asia’s largest MMA organization, but also the second largest in the world right behind the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The company recently signed a 10-year cable television deal with FOX and STAR Sports to provide coverage that will span over 70 countries worldwide.

Julaton said the recognition she has earned from the organization played a key role in her decision to sign with them – along with her passion to fight for respect:

“I’ve contributed so much of myself to boxing and ONE FC respected me and saw the value in my passion for inspiring through boxing. That level of respect makes me want to be the best I can be in the ONE FC organization.”

Unlike boxing where she is limited to using only her hands, Julaton will be able to utilize her feet, knees and other strikes whenever she steps into a ONE FC cage.

Given her background in martial arts, she says that despite the rigorous demands of training, her transition into MMA has been unbelievably fun since she can mesh everything together:

“(Famous Japanese swordsman) Miyamoto Musashi would say, ‘To know one way is to know all ways.’ I believe in that and after learning from boxing greats like Freddie Roach and Roger Mayweather, choosing what works best for me and incorporating it with my background in martial arts gets me fired up.”

Julaton recently moved to Las Vegas in preparation for the Saber bout. She has also been training for a scheduled boxing match on May 29 against an opponent yet to be named.

Despite the demands for both fights, she said the intensity of her training regiment has remained the same:

“Fight sports are naturally intense and whether one trains in MMA or boxing, it’s about having balance.”

Since moving to Vegas, she has regularly attended MMA events. But one particular event holds a special significance to her.

In August 2009, she was in attendance at San Jose’s HP Pavilion (now the SAP Center) to witness then-Strikeforce stars Gina Carano and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos become the first two female fighters to main event a major MMA event.

One month later, Julaton defeated veteran Kelsey Jeffries via majority decision to win the vacant IBA world title in that exact arena.

The atmosphere of those events ultimately produced an amazing feeling for Julaton:

“I loved experiencing both and I got to do that more in Las Vegas. What I appreciated in the Carano vs. ‘Cyborg’ fight was the strategy and level of experience both fighters showed that night.”

Santos’ first-round technical knockout win did more than garner Showtime 856,000 viewers. It ultimately paved the way for other female fighters to leave their mark in the sport.

Following its purchase by UFC parent company Zuffa, LLC in March 2011, Strikeforce continued showcasing some of its best female talent until it closed down in January 2013.

No female fighter gained more popularity while fighting under Strikeforce than undefeated bantamweight champion – and first lady of the UFC – Ronda Rousey.

After Rousey signed with UFC in November 2012, the company also signed 11 female fighters to their Strawweight division and even picked up the contract of Rousey’s rival, former Strikeforce bantamweight champion Miesha Tate.

Julaton said that seeing fighters like Rousey, Santos and Tate compete on such a national stage in the United States is inspiring, especially when considering the popularity of women’s sports internationally:

“After speaking with Victor Cui and ONE FC, they want to uplift the talent of both men and women in Asia. I am one of the millions of women and young girls who took a passion for the martial arts and it’s inspiring to know that ONE FC will be a place for anyone to aspire.”

Though she doesn’t plan on hanging up her gloves anytime soon, Julaton hopes to share her experiences and knowledge of the fighting arts with other aspiring talents after she retires.

Even at age 33, she says she doesn’t feel anything like her age.

With just a week left until her big fight, she continues to train hard and remain focused in hopes of not only walking away from the cage victorious, but also leaving quite a first impression as a mixed martial artist in front of her fellow countrymen:

“Getting back to my martial arts roots brought back my inner child and it’s an incredible feeling. I feel smarter, more efficient and even stronger than when I was younger. All I can do is just focus one day at a time.”