GOING by the numbers, it is hard to deny Donnie 'Ahas' Nietes his place in Philippine pro boxing history.
Nietes has been a world champion since 2007, inclusive of a Philippine record nine-year continuous title reign spread in two weight divisions; he is 15-0 with one draw (against Moises Fuentes, but promptly avenged with a knockout win in the rematch) in world title fights and holds a 7-0, one-draw ledger against former or current world champions; he last tasted defeat in 2004 and has been unbeaten in his last 32 fights (with two draws).
Lest we forget, Nietes has won championships in three weight classifications (minimumweight, junior flyweight and flyweight), a rare accomplishment he shares only with Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire Jr.
Surprisingly, though, Nietes continues to fight behind the shadows, like a mere reservist in a vaunted military squadron. The reasons are aplenty: he has been fighting in lower weight classes which has not been given prime time attention by the networks in the US; he remains in search of that marquee foe that will give his career a huge boost; and he has been fighting alongside Pacquiao, which makes him as recognizable to the boxing public as a dolphin swimming side-to-side with Moby Dick.
Then again, Nietes might just be on the receiving end of that long-overdue exposure this year. On February 25 (Manila time), Nietes will defend the International Boxing Federation (IBF) flyweight title (112 lbs.) against challenger Juan Carlos Reveco of Argentina at the Forum in Inglewood, California. The fight has been added by network giant HBO to its "Super Fly" card that features in the main event World Boxing Council (WBC) junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai defending against Mexican Juan Francisco Estrada. This will be Nietes' third fight in the US, but easily the biggest considering that HBO will be beaming the fight.
Nietes will turn 36 on May 13, but you can say that his inclusion in the card reinvigorated him. It's like having his nerves injected with mega doses of enthusiasm.
"For now, wala pa akong planong mag-retire," Nietes told this writer. "I love boxing at hanggang kaya pa ng katawan ko, I will continue with this profession."
Nietes fought only once last year, decisioning Thai Komgrich Nantapech in April for the vacant IBF title. He sat out the remainder of the year, but assures that he kept his condition in check. "Kahit one fight lang ako, hindi ko naman pinabayaan yung mga activity ko at ang training patuloy pa din ako sa pag-eensayo," he said. "For now, okay talaga ang condition ko, feeling batang-bata pa talaga."
Apparently, after all these years, the smell of a worn-out punching bag continues to lure Nietes to the gym like an idle cheese temps a mouse. "From the start, hindi naiba ang ugali ni Donnie towards training, para bang napaka-importante talaga sa kanya," mused trainer Edito Villamor. "Kung ano ang ipagawa mo sa kanya, wala siyang reklamo. He always listens to the coaches kung ano ang dapat gawin. Kahit matagal na siyang champion, feeling niya may kulang pa rin."
Nietes (40-1, 4 draws with 22 knockouts) is facing a battle-tested challenger in Reveco (39-3, 19 knockouts). The 34-year-old Reveco turned pro in 2004 and held the World Boxing Association's (WBA) regular flyweight title from 2013 to 2015. After yielding the WBA hardware to Japan's Kazuto Ioka in April 2015, Reveco has won three of his last four fights, including a points win over Nantapech last September that made him the mandatory challenger for Nietes' crown.
Reveco is essentially a boxer, one who works behind a left jab-overhand right combination. He is relatively small at 5-2 and is susceptible to the counter right as he tends to get lazy with the left jab as he moves in. Reveco has been stopped only once, and it took Ioka 11 rounds to stop him in their December 2015 rematch.
"Reveco is a great champion," said Villamor. "Magaling at may lakas din pero sa tingin ko parehas sila ni Donnie pagdating sa lakas. Donnie is ready."
Like a kid stepping out of school for the summer break, Nietes has never looked this excited to step into the ring. The spotlight awaits as he makes his maiden appearance in HBO's "Super Fly" card, and you can say 'Ahas' can't wait to spread his venom all over the ring once the bell rings.