Fighting in the shadows

Conrad M. Cariño

Conrad M. Cariño

If you ask any Filipino boxing fan who are the three most popular pugilists in the Philippines today, the most likely answer you will get for the two top slots are Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire.

The number three slot would probably be a toss up between Brian Villoria and Donnie Nietes. But to the new boxing fan (with many of them developing an interest in the sport because of Pacquiao), the name Donnie Nietes may not ring a bell.

Nietes, the concurrent The Ring Flyweight Champion, has fought in the shadows of Pacquiao, Donaire and even Viloria for obvious reasons.

And in this era where boxers with multiple titles are venerated more than those who have long reigns in one or two divisions, it is very easy to dismiss the achievements of Nietes.

While there is no doubt that Pacquiao and Donaire will always be ranked at the top among the five greatest Filipino boxers of all time, Nietes may deserve the number five slot for being the longest reigning champion alongside the legendary Gabriel “Flash” Elorde.

While Elorde cemented his legacy by being the longest-reigning junior flyweight champion at seven years, Nietes already surpassed Elorde over the weekend as the longest reigning Filipino world champion at minimum weight and junior flyweight.

Compared to multi-weight champions like Pacquiao and Donaire, boxers who have reigned long in only one or two divisions have to put in a lot of hard work and discipline just to maintain their fighting weights. To do that for seven years could be punishing.

This does not mean, however, that fighters like Nietes just remain in the divisions where they are dominant, because climbing one or two divisions higher can result to a more lucrative career.

One good example is Bernard Hopkins, who was world middleweight champion from 1994 to 2005 and made 20 title defenses. Hopkins eventually became the world light heavyweight champion before losing a unification fight to Sergey Kovalev on November 8, 2014. It was his foray into the light heavyweight division that Hopkins got more recognition.

But then—you have to admire fighters like Pacquiao and Donaire for advancing to more than two or three heavier divisions because that would require taking on bigger fighters. Also, not all fighters who climb to the higher weight divisions are able to proportionally adjust their punching power.

Furthermore, the weigh-in rules today, where boxers are weighed more than 24 hours before a fight, usually favor the bigger fighter because he has more time to rehydrate and add more weight before the actual bout compared to a smaller fighter.

So since Pacquiao and Donaire both set the bar on how outstanding Filipino boxers should excel, there are clamors for Nietes to fight at the flyweight division so he could annex another championship in a third weight division.

Doing that, however, would be very risky because the reigning The Ring world flyweight champion is undefeated Roman Gonzalez of Nicaragua, who has a record of 40-0 with 34 knockouts. Obviously, Gonzalez is a knockout artist! Nietes has a record of 34-1 with 20 knockouts.

There are other “safer” opponents at flyweight but the fact that Nietes is The Ring junior flyweight champion makes him stick out like sore thumb that fight fans will surely clamor for him to fight Gonzalez. But the last thing I want to see is another outstanding Filipino fighter losing by knockout to another world champion. Donaire losing by stoppage to Jamaican knockout artist Nicholas Walters last month is enough at this point.

Perhaps Nietes reigning at minimum and junior flyweight for 10 years would be enough to cement his legacy in the sport.


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