THE snake no longer hides in the eagle’s shadow.
Donnie ‘Ahas’ Nietes has been a world boxing champion for the last six years, but it was not until he defeated Mexican challenger Moises Fuentes last Saturday that boxing fans started treating him as one.
In his finest performance to date, Nietes clinically beat up Fuentes to retain his World Boxing Organization (WBO) light flyweight (108 pounds) championship for the fourth time and earn recognition as lineal champion from The Ring magazine. A week before the fight, The Ring, dubbed the Bible of Boxing, announced that the winner of the bout will be recognized by the magazine as the genuine champion in the division. You can say that Nietes chose the perfect time to step up.
In March 2013, Nietes and Fuentes battled to a razor-close majority draw at the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City. Utilizing movement and well-timed combinations, Nietes befuddled the taller and younger Fuentes in the early rounds. Nietes, however, ran out of steam in the middle rounds and started mixing it up. Nietes got cut and struggled the rest of the way to allow Fuentes to salvage a draw.
Before their return bout at the Mall of Asia Arena, Nietes had posted just one win, stopping a grossly overmatched Sammy Gutierrez in three rounds. In stark contrast, Fuentes had chalked up three straight wins, two by knockout. So confident was Fuentes that he again agreed to take on Nietes in the latter’s home soil.
A native of Distrito Federal, Mexico City, the 28-year-old Fuentes turned pro in 2007 and went unbeaten in his first 12 fights before dropping a close split decision to Juan Hernandez in May 2011 in a battle for the North American Boxing Federation minimumweight (105 pounds) crown. Hernandez showed up overweight but Fuentes still agreed to fight him. The gamble backfired as Fuentes lost on points. Fuentes rebounded strongly though, defeating Mexican Raul Garcia just three months later to capture the WBO minimumweight championship. Fuentes made two successful defenses, including a five-round hammering of Puerto Rican legend Ivan Calderon in October 2012, before getting embroiled in a feud with Nietes.
A visibly ripped Fuentes oozed with confidence and promised nothing less than a knockout victory in the return encounter. Unfortunately for Fuentes, Nietes had his own agenda which included earning that long overdue recognition from the fans and boxing cognoscenti.
Nietes showed up with a perfect battle-plan and stuck to it religiously. The lanky Fuentes loves to pressure foes and nail them with his howitzer right straight when they are already under duress. Nietes addressed Fuentes’ style by repeatedly unloading a left jab-right straight combination. Fuentes offered a stiff upper body and every time he tried to move forward and pressure, he was greeted by a ramrod left jab from Nietes. As Fuentes hardly moved his head, Nietes’ follow-up right straight repeatedly found the Mexican’s chin.
On the defensive end, Nietes was to quick crouch low after delivering his left jab-right straight combo. The defensive maneuver enabled Nietes to fully dodge Fuentes’ counter right straight. Fuentes was not exceptionally fast and his tendency to telegraph the delivery of his right straight gave Nietes enough time to duck. The moment he emerged from his crouching position, Nietes amply covered his face with both gloves to block additional right straights from Fuentes. As can be deduced, Nietes had two defensive plans for Fuentes’ most potent punch.
Crouching too low, however, puts too much stress on the legs and makes a fighter susceptible to cramps and even ankle damage. Predictably, by the sixth round, Nietes’ cornermen started feverishly rubbing the fighter’s legs. Fuentes apparently sensed the problem as there were occasions in the fight when he hit Nietes on the thighs.
Fuentes also tried to slow down Nietes by bombarding the latter with debilitating body shots. Nietes absorbed shots to the breadbasket that would have forced an ordinary boxer to collapse. But a superbly conditioned Nietes continued to box in and out to prevent Fuentes from zeroing in on his body.
In the ninth round, a huge right straight from Nietes had Fuentes slowly dropping to the canvas. Nietes gave chase as Fuentes fell to the canvas and unloaded an additional left to the body that caused him a one-point deduction from American referee Robert Byrd. Fuentes got up, but he was clearly in dire straits. After another combination from Nietes produced a second knockdown, Fuentes started holding on for dear life. The round was some 10 seconds away from coming to an end when Nietes caught a retreating Fuentes with a right straight that sent him crashing to the canvas for the third time. Referee Byrd pulled the plug at 2:56 of the round.
Nietes’ victory improved his record to 33-1 with 19 knockouts. The Filipino has not lost a fight since September 2004, when he dropped a close split decision to Indonesian Angky Angkota in Jakarta. Nietes became WBO minimumweight champ in 2007 and held the belt until 2011 when he moved up and captured the WBO light flyweight diadem.
Nietes’ story appears to have been taken from a Ricky Lee script. He initially worked as a janitor in the famed ALA Boxing Gym before developing a passion for boxing. He earned the nickname ‘Ahas’ (snake) because he was the only one who was brave enough to feed the pet snakes in the gym.
While a champion since 2007, Nietes labored under the shadows of resident ALA boxing stars like AJ Banal, Milan Melindo and Rey ‘Boom Boom’ Bautista. As if things cannot get any worse, inactivity and lacklustre opposition hurt Nietes’ progress.
The apathy figures to be a thing of the past. The win over Fuentes, coupled by the recognition from The Ring, has made Nietes the hottest ticket in the light flyweight class. Nietes has expressed interest in unifying the 108-pound championship and moving up to the flyweight class (112 pounds) down the road.
Nietes calls the shots from hereon, after all, ‘Ahas’ is now the man.