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Angry at ONE initially, Ana Julaton turned one-year layoff into 'blessing'

Angelo Reyes

Ana Julaton was used to staying active. It's all she knew as a pro boxer. In 2008, she had five fights. Two other years since her 2007 debut, she fought three times.

We have now reached the final month of 2015 and Julaton has yet to enter the cage for ONE Championship. She had requested to compete multiple times this year, she said, but was rebuffed. That has not made her very happy.

"We kept asking for fights, but it just never worked out," Julaton told MMA Fighting. "So whatever. I really have to credit my team. Stuff like that can really get into a fighter's head. I was pretty much like, f*ck this, screw this. I just wanted to get away from the whole thing."

Julaton will finally be back in action Friday at ONE: Spirit of Champions in Manila, Philippines against Russian kickboxer Irina Mazepa. "The Hurricane" had big plans for 2015, which have been scuttled. But, to her credit, she turned the frustration into a positive. Julaton, who has not fought in MMA since December 2014, has used the last 12 months to make herself into an all-around mixed martial artist, according to her coach Ricky Lundell.

"Ana never missed a day in the gym," Lundell said. "Even when she was upset. That's different from most of the other fighters I know, because most of the fighters I know are going, 'Man, if I don't have a fight, I'm not in the gym.' Ana hasn't missed a day of practice in a year."

Julaton, 35, was once the WBO World female super bantamweight champion in boxing. With little opportunity in that sport for women, the San Francisco native of Filipino descent decided to cross over into MMA. ONE Championship, with a strong following in the Philippines, was a perfect fit. Julaton fought for ONE three times in 2014, going 2-1.

Lundell said over the last year Julaton has worked hard on takedowns, stopping takedowns, transitions, submissions -- everything that MMA encompasses. Maybe the layoff wasn't such a bad thing after all.

"I guess despite the inactivity with ONE FC, it's almost become a blessing to where I really got to spend a lot of time on myself, on just redeveloping a new relationship with my body in terms of moving back into the martial arts and just loving it again instead of it feeling like it was a job," Julaton said. "If anything, I think it just turned out for the better."

The issue this year with ONE, according to CEO Victor Cui, was one of timing. Julaton took a boxing match in March, as her ONE contract allows her to do. Cui said because she is still committed to that sport, it's hard to nail down fights for her in MMA.

"It's difficult when you're dealing with an athlete that wants to juggle a career in two sports," Cui said. "We only have 12 months in a year and they want to do a training camp for their fight. So if she picks up a boxing fight and she does a two-month or three-month training camp, that's a third of the year that's gone."

Julaton is a known commodity in Manila, so it makes sense for her to compete there. But ONE only visits the Philippines twice per year, Cui said. The exec said he would try to sit down with Julaton this week to hammer out plans for 2016. Though her ground game was a bit of a concern last year, Cui said ONE is still committed to building Julaton as a star, especially in the Philippines.

"That's always been the plan," he said. "It's up to her, deciding how she wants to take her career. ... We've got 24 events next year. We've got more than enough space to put her wherever she wants."

Regarding Julaton's ground game, Lundell said no one should worry about it now. Julaton has embraced wrestling and grappling. Lundell is a top grappling trainer, who works with the likes of Frank Mir, and also coaches wrestling at Bishop Gorman HS in Las Vegas.

One of the big things for Julaton was not just drilling the physical aspects of MMA. A boxer for so long, Julaton had to really embrace the idea of being an MMA fighter. That meant learning the history of the sport and the finer points. It meant watching fights and analyzing how and why things happened the way they did. That's where Lundell and boxing coach Angelo Reyes came in. Julaton really needed to make MMA her identity and had the people around her to do it.

"I think MMA done at the highest level, it's a beautiful thing to watch," said Julaton, who trained in boxing under Freddie Roach, among others. "I think that was one of the hardest aspects of me as a boxer moving into MMA, just finding someone to articulate the craft of MMA.

"If it wasn't for the communication and the patience and the chemistry of the entire team, I wouldn't appreciate MMA right now."

Julaton said she has two more fights left on her ONE contract. She has not thought much about the UFC outside of the fact that Lundell also coaches Mir, Travis Browne, Carlos Condit and others. Lundell has thought about it for her, though. He believes that Julaton matches up well with anyone in the UFC's women's strawweight division, up to and including champion Joanna Jedrzejczk.

"She has the ability to be a star in the UFC," Lundell said. "Ana Julaton truly has the ability to go to any organization and be great. I'm looking at girls in the UFC -- Ana would highlight reel them any time she wants to."

Julaton isn't sure if she's getting the respect she believes she deserves in ONE, for the most part. Along with the inactivity this year, she wasn't happy in 2014 with where she fought on cards, which was mostly very early in the night. Julaton said she felt "shafted." Cui assured she'll be on the main card Friday against Mazepa.

Mostly, Julaton has turned that irritation around and used it for motivation. That's the case now. She understands that if her performance in the cage is impressive, that will solve most of this year's problems.

"I think the best way to do it is to just put it on someone," Julaton said. "It's like if you don't want to put me on regular TV, I'm gonna make a highlight reel and have people watching it all over YouTube."