Boxer Kassim Ouma, the reformed child soldier who in escaping his native war-torn Uganda sought a more prosperous and peaceful fighting practice, had just struggled over 10 rounds in a losing effort.
Ouma was the main event that night more than six years ago in Southern California, and as the final bell tolled for his bout, the attending fans began taking their leave.
But a loyal few stayed for the walkout bout to watch a spry, skinny girl from Daly City quietly make her professional prizefighting debut. Now a little older and a step slower, Ana Julaton, 33, will debut yet again. She doubts anyone will walk out this time.
Julaton, the Bay Area-raised, Las Vegas-based multiple 122-pound world boxing titlist will try her lightly gloved hand in cage fighting as the Filipino-American makes her mixed-martial arts debut in the opening bout of the ONE Fighting Championship card in the Philippine capital of Manila on Friday.
“I think it’s been a long time coming,” said Julaton, who signed a multi-fight deal with the ONE FC — a Singapore-based fighting league that follows the authentic rules of scoring, which determines a winner not by points, but by who inflicts the most damage. “I have this opportunity right now. And I’d be a fool just to let it go.”
But that newfound opportunity will come against a fighter a decade Julaton’s junior. Aya Saeid Saber is a five-fight MMA veteran and an accomplished Egyptian kickboxing champion, a striker fond of front leg kicks and who recently has shown a knack for submissions.
“I expect her to be at her best,” Julaton said of Saber. “She says she wants to welcome me to the MMA scene. Well great. I can’t wait to welcome you to the Philippines.”
But the cage has a rude and painful way of reminding a boxer that they don’t belong. Julaton, who plans a boxing ring return May 29, is opting not to heed that warning.
“My first love has always been martial arts,” Julaton said. “So it’s gonna be fun just to put that all together and being able to have that childhood feel.”
It was as a child that Julaton’s father, Cesario — before teaching his daughter her ABC’s — began tutoring her in Hung Gar, a branch of Kung Fu. She spurred that passion to black belts in Taekwondo and Kempo Karate at ages 15 and 29, respectively.
“I’m not saying that this fight for MMA is going to be easy,” Julaton said. “But it’s just amazing to see both sides of the picture as a female fighter.”
Julaton saw that low side just two fights ago, when she dropped a disappointing points loss to boxing novice Celina Salazar, a loss that forced the boxer to contemplate retirement.
“I had to challenge myself and learn a little bit more about myself,” Julaton said. “I don’t take any of it back. … I’ve been through it all.”
One Fighting Championship
WHERE: Manila, Philippines
NOTE: Daly City’s Ana Julaton will make her MMA debut against Aya Saeid Saber