TRYING to figure out Donnie Nietes in the ring is like trying to find the starting point of a scotch tape.
You think it is relatively easy until you realize that a considerable amount of time has passed and you are still in square one. The frustration mounts and before you know it, Nietes is beating you silly. By the time the smoke of battle clears, you are left wondering how a supposedly elementary task turned out to be herculean.
This has been the case for Nietes’ opponents for the last 14 years. With the exception of the September 2004 fight in Jakarta where he dropped a disputed split decision to a heavier (and hometown favorite) Angky Angkotta, Nietes has not tasted defeat. We are talking 35 fights spread over four weight classifications.
Nietes is already 36 years old and has logged 358 rounds in 48 total fights. We are talking mileage only a beat-up Volkswagen Beetle can accumulate, but Nietes continues to chug along the dangerous highway and mesmerize high-octane pugilists. Nietes is the real Latino terminator, having gone 16-0 (1 draw) against tough Mexican hombres. Nietes has never been knocked down; the only time he appeared seriously hurt was in March 2013, when lanky Mexican Moises Fuentes caught him with some serious shots along the ropes in their first meeting. The fight was declared a draw, but in a rematch held a year later Nietes settled the score with an emphatic ninth-round knockout of Fuentes.
So just what makes Nietes tick?
You need an astute boxing eye to dissect Nietes. It all starts with Nietes’ adherence to defense, a lost art in boxing. While many boxers today prefer to impress by throwing punches in bunches and going all gung-ho in the ring, Nietes diligently invests time on his defense.
Nietes’ defense is not just about putting his hands up and covering his jaw; it’s about observing proper spacing in the ring, feinting, dodging, and rolling with the counter blow. The beautiful thing about Nietes’ defense is that it serves as the perfect launching pad for his dreaded right straight.
In one motion, Nietes will feint, dip a little, unload an overhand right and then step back to either dodge or roll with his foe’s counter shot. This takes hours of practice to perfect and master. Nietes has been working on his defense since he turned pro in 2003.
In his most recent outing, against Japanese star Kazuto Ioka, Nietes’ craftiness was in full display.
Just last September, three-division world champ Ioka debuted in the junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) division by outworking Puerto Rican McWilliams Arroyo. Ioka mesmerized Arroyo with his aggressiveness and offense, knocking down the latter in the third round on his way to a clear-cut decision win.
Ioka was oozing with confidence against Nietes, but nothing prepared the Japanese for the style of the Filipino fighter. Ioka was his typical aggressive self, but Nietes’ defense and counterpunching skills turned out to be ideal antidote. Nietes stayed in front of Ioka, but observed the proper distance to give himself enough room to step back and counter. Like moth to a flame, Ioka kept running smack into Nietes’ counter right hand. Nietes kept Ioka befuddled by adding to his offense a sneaky left uppercut delivered after a feint that had Japanese bracing for the right hand.
By the eighth round, tired from being fed with a steady diet of counter right shots from Nietes, Ioka changed his style and tried employing lateral movements. Ioka encountered some success, but Nietes hunted him down and landed enough power shots to earn a split-decision victory.
Nietes raised his pro record to 42-1, 5 draws with 23 knockouts. The victory earned Nietes the vacant World Boxing Organization (WBO) junior bantamweight title, his fourth division crown. Nietes had previously reigned as champion in the minimumweight (105 lbs.), junior flyweight (108 lbs.) and flyweight (112 lbs.) divisions. He became only the third Filipino to win at least four division titles after Manny Pacquiao (a record 8 division crowns) and Nonito Donaire Jr. (4).
Overall, there have been 18 quadruple champions in boxing, starting with Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns in the late 1980s. Nietes is the latest addition to a high-profile list that includes the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr. and Floyd Mayweather Jr. Nietes, however, is one of only three boxers (the others being Venezuelan Leo Gamez and Nicaraguan Roman Gonzalez) to win four division crowns starting from boxing’s lightest weight class (minimumweight, 105 lbs.).
Yes, there’s something about Donnie, and you might want to start taking down notes while the legend is still very much in the fight business. It’s not readily visible, but when you take out the microscope for a closer look, you will know how special it is.