[EDITOR'S NOTE: Spin.ph bares its choices for the Top Ten Sports Heroes of 2015 leading up to the announcement of our Sportsman of the Year. All 10 awardees will be honored during our Awards Night to be held on January 30 at the Ceremonial Hall of Marriott Hotel Manila. Here's Awardee No. 4]
CATEGORY: Sportsmen Who Embody the Filipino Fighting Spirit
AWARDEE: Donnie 'Ahas' Nietes
WITH his small frame and gentle demeanor, Donnie ‘Ahas’ Nietes hardly impressed boxing impresario Antonio Aldeguer – he of the famed ALA stable in Cebu– the first time they met more than a decade ago, which explains why Nietes' request to box as part of his stable was initially turned down.
“Ang sabi maliit daw ako, tsaka payat,” recalled Nietes, who was barely out of his teenage years then.
Still, Nietes eventually became part of the Cebu-based gym that day, just not as a boxer.
Instead of pounding on the punching bag, Nietes, who travelled all the way from Bacolod to the Queen City of the South just to be able to fulfill a life-long dream, found himself cleaning the gym and in-charge of installing the makeshift ring, while taking care of the five big pythons – thus the nickname ‘Ahas’ - owned by the Aldeguers.
Despite serving as the gym's full-time janitor and snake keeper for the next 18 months, Nietes kept his desire for the sport burning while observing from the sidelines. In his spare time, especially during lunch break, he would train and sweat it out with the other boxers not just to stay in fighting shape, but also to sharpen his skills.
Aldeguer eventually relented the next time Nietes asked that he be allowed to box, and in due time, became part of ALA’s stable of boxers. And that decision, something which can be considered a small gamble given Nietes' build, has paid off huge for Philippine boxing.
Fast forward to the present, Nietes is now considered among the world’s best in the light flyweight division and the hottest property of ALA boxing, now being run by Aldeguer's son Michael.
Even more, he’s now on record as the longest-reigning Filipino world champion, surpassing the long-standing mark of seven years and three months held by the late great Gabriel ‘Flash’ Elorde.
The 33-year-old pride of Murcia, Negros Occidental officially surpassed Elorde’s record as a junior lightweight champion (1960-1967) when he retained his World Boxing Organization (WBO) 108-lbs title belt with a ninth-round stoppage of Gilberto Parra at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last March.
Nietes first became world champion in 2007 when he won the vacant WBO minimumweight title by beating Pornsawan Porpramook of Thailand in a 12-round unanimous decision at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino.
He hasn’t lost in 13 world championship bouts since then, including eight straight defense of his light flyweight crown, the latest of which came in his US debut - a unanimous decision over Mexican Juan Alejo at the Stubhub Center in Carson, California.
The father of two kids admitted not once did it ever occur to him that one day he’ll be able to exceed what the great Flash Elorde had accomplished.
“Hindi ko naman akalain na malalampasan ko ‘yun,” he said.
Still, Nietes has kept his utmost respect for Elorde, the proud son of Bogo City, Cebu, whose simple and humble beginnings was a big inspiration to him.
“Elorde is Elorde. Walang katulad, walang kapantay,” said the nephew of former Philippine flyweight champion Dan Nietes.
A certified bike lover who also plays basketball, Nietes plans to fight a few more years in the hope of winning another world title in a higher weight division.
Soon after, he knows retirement beckons and being a multi-division world champion with the longest ever reign is the biggest legacy he’ll leave behind.
But more than that, Nietes simply wants people to remember him as the janitor who did good enough to become a boxing champ.
“Yun ang mas gusto ko. That I’m able to inspire aspiring boxers,” he said.