CEBU CITY: On the first day of 2015, World Boxing Organization (WBO) light flyweight champion Donnie “Ahas” Nietes officially became the longest-reigning Filipino world champion, surpassing the legendary Cebuano Gabriel “Flash” Elorde’s record of seven years and three months.
But on his first day he showed up at the ALA gym, boxing patron Antonio L. Aldeguer (ALA) said he didn’t even allow the Murcia, Negros Occidental-born fighter to join his stable of fighters.
“He showed up with his cousin Dan, who was a boxer, saying he also wanted to become one. But he was so skinny and so frail, I said no,” Aldeguer said.
Aldeguer led a testimonial for the two-division world champion on January 9 at the Cebu City Sports Club.
So instead of getting a pair of gloves and a spot in the ring, Nietes got handed mops, brooms and a job as the utility man of the ALA gym in Cebu City.
“I told him that I have a lot of animals in the gym, why not take care of it?” he said.
So Nietes started taking care of Aldeguer’s pets, including the pythons.
“Of all the workers assigned to take care of the snakes, he was the only one who was able to approach and touch them,” he said.
Thus was born the nickname “Ahas,” who would become one of the great fighters in history according to the renowned Ring Magazine.
But before he made “Ahas” famous, Nietes had to convince Aldeguer to let him fight.
After sneaking in some training time after his chores were over, he was finally able to convince the boxing patron to include him in one of his amateur fights.
“When I saw him fight, that’s when I thought, there might be a future in fighting for him,’” he said.
On April 25, 2003, Nietes finally realized his dream when he turned pro and beat Walter Suaybaguio by decision in his debut.
He would go on to win nine of his first 10 fights, the other one a draw, and his nine wins, six were by knockouts.
Then he got his first big break when he fought Marti Polii in Indonesia and scored a seventh-round knockout.
Aldeguer got a call from a promoter friend in Indonesia, who was looking for Filipino boxers for his fight card and he sent Nietes.
“I told him, why not make it worth our boxer’s time by letting him fight twice?’” he said.
The undefeated Nietes first beat Abrin Matta in four rounds before getting assigned to face then up-and-coming fighter Angky Angkotta, who was 12-2-0 at that time, on September 28, 2004.
“The promoter said they wanted to pit Nietes against a promising fighter in Angkota and I said, ‘Yes,’”, Aldeguer said.
But on the weigh-in, Nietes came in at 105 pounds, while Angkota was at 112.
“I wanted to scrap the fight but the promoter said that they have to push on with the fight because everything was set,” he said.
Aldeguer agreed but stipulated that there must be another weigh-in on the day of the fight and Angkota must be at 108-pounds.
The Indonesian fighter was still overweight, and was two pounds over the agreement but the fight still pushed through and Nietes suffered his first and only loss, by split decision.
“But the promoter called me and said, ‘You’re fighter won the fight fair and square, and as proof of that, he knocked out two of my fighter’s teeth!’” Aldeguer said.
After that controversial loss, Nietes moved on and fought 12 more times, winning 10 and earning two draws and he got a shot at the vacant WBO world minimumweight title against Pornsawan Porpramook, a chance that even Aldeguer himself wouldn’t come.
“It never entered my mind that he would become a world champion,” he said.
Nietes surprised everyone by knocking down Porpramook (20-0) once in the fourth round on his way to a unanimous decision win.
Five years later, Porpramook would become a world champion himself after beating Muhammad Rachman for the vacant Rachman for the WBA minimum weight belt, just one of several Nietes victims who would become world champions.
Aside from his fierce determination in the ring, Aldeguer and trainers Edito and Edmund Villamor also praised Nietes humility and work ethic.
“The Donnie Nietes I saw seven years ago is still the same Donnie Nietes I see today,” said Edito, a former world title contender in his prime with a 29-2, 26 KOs record who lost two title fights to the legendary boxer Ricardo Lopez.
Edmund also thanked Donnie for realizing his dream.
“As a fighter, I dreamed of becoming a world champion but I wasn’t able to do that. I thank Donnie for making me achieve my dream, but this time, as a trainer,” said Edmund, who fought as a minimumweight and retired with a 15-2-, 8 KOs record.
Both Edito and Nietes himself credited Aldeguer for the boxer’s work ethic and attitude.
Aldeguer, a staunch disciplinarian, even said that one time Nietes and a former ALA fighter broke their curfew and were locked out of their stable.
“They went to the mall and failed to make it to our 8 p.m. curfew. When the guard refused to let them in, they called me and said they were late and asked if they could come in. I said, ‘No, go find a place to spend the night,’” he said.
“So you have Nietes, a world champion, and Bautista, the most famous ALA fighter at that time, spending the night under the flyover for breaking curfew!” he said.
Now, the boxing patron who once rejected Nietes for being too skinny and frail is all praises for his boxer.
“I’ve had a lot of boxers in the past, Gerry Peñalosa, Edito. But now I can proudly say this, ‘There is only one Donnie Nietes,” he said.
“Winning a title in boxing is very difficult, staying a champion for seven years is 100 times more difficult,” Aldeguer said.
Nietes, who is now 34-1-4 with 20 knockouts and is under negotiation to fight a Japanese in Macau next month, also thanked ALA, his trainers, stablemates and all the staff of ALA gym in his speech.
“I can’t achieve what I have achieved today if not for you,” he said, and addressing his fellow boxers. “Just listen to the advice of sir ALA, don’t let success get into your head and always stay humble.”
The emcee of the testimonial dinner, veteran writer Ronnie Nathanielsz, who is a friend of Flash Elorde and his family, also has positive words for the champion.
“Elorde and Nietes are similar. They have the same humility and decency outside the ring. Mrs. Elorde even told me that ‘I am glad that the one who surpasses Elorde’s record is himself and a decent Filipino champion,” said Nathanielsz.