THE third all-Filipino world title matchup in boxing history is all set to take place this Sunday (Manila time), when Donnie ‘Ahas’ Nietes and Aston ‘Mighty’ Palicte go head-to-head for the vacant World Boxing Organization (WBO) super flyweight title (115 lbs.) at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
If the results of the first two All-Pinoy world boxing title fights will be used as a yardstick, it is safe to say that Nietes and Palicte must add a little “hot sauce” to make their showdown palatable.
In May 1925, then world flyweight champ Pancho Villa took pity on a young Clever Sencio and waltzed his way to a decision win. Ninety-three years later, May 2018, IBF super flyweight king Jerwin Ancajas came up with a pedestrian performance in hacking out a decision win over a game but limited Jonas Sultan. The empathy has its root cause: it is not every day that two Filipinos square off for a world title and, from a cultural perspective, nobody wants to play the role of the villain in such a pairing.
For a change, Nietes and Palicte appear bent on making their showdown truly competitive. The boxers have been trading verbal jabs to whip themselves into “war” mode. Nietes had talked about avenging the loss his cousin Gerald Nietes suffered at the hands of Palicte in the amateur ranks. For his part, Palicte admitted looking up to Nietes but minced no word when he said that they can remain friends after he beats him.
Skill-wise, Nietes (41-1, 4 draws, 23 knockouts) and Palicte (24-2, 20 knockouts) have what it takes to produce fireworks in the ring. Nietes offers experience and defensive toughness while the 27-year-old Palicte brings youth and immense power in his overhand right. At 5-7, Palicte dwarfs Nietes and this could be a problem considering that Palicte loves to set up his power right hand with a plethora of solid left jabs.
The last time Nietes fought a guy as big as Palicte was March 2013, when he took on Mexican Moises Fuentes for the WBO light flyweight (108 lbs.) title. The elongated Fuentes hurt Nietes and their initial clash ended in a majority draw. To his credit, Nietes granted Fuentes a rematch a year later and demolished him in nine rounds.
Unlike Fuentes who rose from the minimumweight division (105 lbs.), Palicte is a natural super flyweight and there is no telling how heavy he will be when the bell rings. Then again, Palicte’s suspect conditioning and lack of head movement are cracks in his armor that Nietes can exploit.
Nietes offers a pesky, crouching defensive style that can force a tall, lanky fighter like Palicte to push his punches downward and expose his dangling head for Nietes’ tricky overhand right. Nietes utilized the same tactic in his rematch with Fuentes and the befuddled Mexican was repeatedly caught off-guard by Nietes’ springing, overhand right.
Then again, at 36, and figuring in only his first fight as a super flyweight, Nietes can sputter anytime.
“Training, hardwork and discipline,” Nietes told this writer when asked about the secrets to his staying power. “Hindi naman siguro ako maapektuhan (by the extra weight and the taller Palicte) kasi I have been sparring with bigger boxers. Pinaghandan din namin ang 115 na timbang.”
“Donnie is always prepared,” mused Nietes’ trainer Edito Villamor. “Pag may laban siya, Day 1 pa lang nagbo-boksing na siya. Yes, matagal na when he last fought a fellow Filipino, pero hindi naman nawawala ang killer instinct nya at ang kanyang enthusiasm sa laban.”
Rodel Mayol, Palicte’s trainer, has high hopes for his ward. Mayol also opined that age and the extra weight may have diminished Nietes’ speed.
“Ang nakikita ko kasi si Aston mas bata, malakas at matangkad,” said Mayol, a former WBC light flyweight champ. “Si Nietes iba na ang galaw nya; parang bumagal siya siguro dahil sa edad. Pero hindi kami kumpiyansa dahil si Nietes ay isang tunay na kampeon.”
Nietes is aiming to collar his fourth division world title after enjoying reigns at minimumweight (105 lbs.), light flyweight (108 lbs.) and flyweight (112 lbs.) ranks. A fourth division crown will make Nietes only the third Filipino fighter to win at least four regular division titles after Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire Jr.
Palicte is receiving his first shot at a world title and he intends to make good on his first attempt. “Matagal ng naghahabol sa kampeonato si Palicte at ito na ang kanyang hinihintay kaya bigay na lahat sa labang ito,” quipped Mayol.
The battle lines have been drawn. To reiterate, just add a little “hot sauce” and we may be in for a buffet of knuckle sandwiches.