Donnie “Ahas” Nietes has been a world boxing champion since 2007, but it was not until he humbled Mexican challenger Moises Fuentes last Saturday that he finally looked the part.
Nietes finally delivered a breakthrough performance, stopping a game Fuentes to retain his World Boxing Organization (WBO) light flyweight (108 pounds) championship. In an emphatic performance, the 31-year-old Nietes floored Fuentes three times for a devastating technical knockout victory.
Nietes barely escaped defeat last year when he eked out a majority draw against Fuentes in their first meeting held in Cebu City. Nietes got off to a great start but made the mistake of brawling with Fuentes in the middle rounds. He got cut, bled profusely and struggled as Fuentes rallied in the trenches.
The controversial ending of the first match precipitated the return encounter at the Mall of Asia Arena. The taller and younger Fuentes looked ripped and ready. So confident was Fuentes of a win that he agreed to meet Nietes again in the latter’s turf.
Fuentes, 28, turned pro in May 2007 and went unbeaten in his first 12 fights before dropping a close split decision to countryman Juan Hernandez in May 2011. He recovered from the setback by capturing the WBO minimumweight title (105 pounds) with a decision win over Mexican Raul Garcia. Fuentes made 2 successful defenses, including a devastating knockout win over Puerto Rican hero Ivan Calderon in October 2012, before moving up to light flyweight to challenge Nietes in March 2013.
Ardently believing that Nietes just got lucky, Fuentes stayed in the 108-pound class and vigorously pursued a rematch. Unfortunately for Fuentes, Nietes showed up in the ring with the clear mission of getting that long overdue respect from the fans and experts.
The rematch was just as exciting as the first, only this time Nietes was consistent throughout and did not make the mistake of brawling with Fuentes. Nietes boxed in and out, frustrating Fuentes with his left jab-right straight combination. Fuentes was not that fast and because he telegraphed the delivery of his right straight, Nietes was able to read his offense and duck on time. Nietes crouched so low that Fuentes looked like a giant trying to nail a fly swirling around his knee. If he was not crouching, Nietes was blocking Fuentes’ right straight and countering with a right straight of his own.
Fuentes tried to slow down the fleet-footed Nietes with body blows, but Nietes was in such great shape that he took all the shots in stride. Nietes was rarely stationary in front of Fuentes and his movements completely befuddled the Mexican. Nietes hurt Fuentes with a flurry in the 7th round and, two rounds later, finished the job by flooring Fuentes three times courtesy of several vicious right straights. American referee Robert Byrd halted the contest at 2:26 of the 9th round.
Nietes raised his record to 33-1 with 19 knockouts. It is hard to believe that the Negros Occidental native has not dropped a fight since September 2004, when he lost by split decision to Indonesian Angky Angkota. Nietes became a world champion for the first time in September 2007, when he defeated Thai Pornsawan Porpramook for the WBO minimumweight crown. Nietes held the belt for four years before moving up and collaring the WBO light flyweight crown with a hard-earned decision over Ramon Garcia Hirales in October 2011. Following the victory over Fuentes, Nietes is now some eight months away from matching the seven-year title reign of Gabriel “Flash” Elorde back in the 1960s.
A former janitor at the famed ALA Boxing Gym, Nietes has been punching holes in a sandbag since 2003. Despite his lengthy title reign, he has toiled in virtual anonymity and seemed destined to be nothing more than footnote in the annals of Philippine boxing. The exciting win over Fuentes, however, clearly boosted Nietes’ fistic stock. He showed that he has what it takes to beat a formidable opponent and deliver the kind of performance that will leave the fans hankering for more. The Ring magazine duly noted Nietes’ performance and recognized the Filipino as the lineal or genuine champion in the 108-pound division where champions from the WBA and WBC also reign (the IBF throne is vacant).
Nietes has expressed interest in unifying the 108-pound crown and possibly moving up to the flyweight (112 pounds) class. Considering his new-found stature in the boxing, you can say that boxing fans are now listening to Nietes and taking down notes.
* * *
For comments, the writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.