Shortly after Donnie “Ahas” Nietes successfully defended his World Boxing Organization (WBO) light flyweight (108 pounds) title with a lopsided decision over Mexican challenger Francisco Rodriguez Jr., WBO president Francisco Varcar¬cel approached the broadcast table where this writer and Ronnie Natha¬nielsz were seated and told us: “He (Nietes) took him (Rodriguez) to school.”
Indeed, Nietes brought out the diploma he earned from the school of hard knocks and administered a counterpunching clinic on hush puppy Rodriguez Before the fight, the 21-year-old Rodriguez offered the credentials of a genuine threat, having unified the minimumweight (105 pounds) championship and given feared Nicaraguan slugger Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez plenty of problems during their 2013 meeting. But as WBO prexy Varcarcel hinted, Rodriguez’s weight issues may have contributed to his failure to consistently hound Nietes on offense. Rodriguez hounded Merlito Sabillo to no end in posting a riveting 10th round stoppage in March 2014 for the WBO minimumweight crown. Five months later, Rodriguez rumbled with Japanese Katsunari Takayama to unify the WBO and IBF minimum weight crowns in a fight that was picked ‘Fight of the Year’ by ESPN.com.
Against Nietes, Rodriguez’s offense noticeably sputtered. He struggled to meet the 108-pound limit before the fight and even sought a one-week postponement, citing a minor injury. It is safe to say though that the weight issue was an additional reason.
Nietes wisely utilized movement and counterpunching to aggravate Rodriguez’s woes. Whenever Rodriguez lunged in, Nietes sidestepped and waited for his cue to counter. Rodriguez made the fight interesting when he occasionally trapped Nietes along the ropes, but he just could not sustain a major offensive salvo. Rodriguez was cut as early as the second round and by the 12th and final round, blood was flowing profusely from his busted nose.
Nietes disclosed after the fight that he injured his right hand midway in the fight and that this prevented him from pursuing a knockout victory. Just the same, the WBO champ piled up enough points and secured the win with lopsided scores of 119-109, 115-113 and 110-118. This writer saw the fight much closer and scored it 116-112.
Nietes, 33, improved his record to 36-1 with 21 knockouts. He made his seventh defense of the WBO light flyweight crown and 11th overall counting the four defenses of the WBO minimumweight crown he made. Nietes is far from being as exciting as Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire, Jr., but he gets the job done with his rather unconventional style. Opponents tend to get befuddled by Nietes’ crouching style, but this actually allows him to launch his vicious right punch with an additional crunch. The WBO champ has a different way of twerking, err fighting.
Nietes does not figure to extend his stay in the light flyweight class. He is not getting any younger and yearns for the big money and publicity a fight with Gonzalez will bring. There is the option to unify the 108-pound belt, but due to the scarcity of time, experts see a move up to the flyweight class where Gonzalez competes as the more financially viable maneuver.
Nietes has not lost a fight since 2004, when he dropped a split-decision to an overweight Anky Angkota. There have been close brushes with defeat, particularly against Mexican Ramon Garcia Hirales in 2011, but Nietes always found a way to win. It will be interesting to see how history will judge Nietes, but a win over Gonzalez will definitely go a long way in appreciating the country’s longest-reigning champ.
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