Donnie Nietes is searching for an excellent career finish…and salvation
The road to stardom for fighters in the sub-bantamweight divisions is exceptionally difficult in boxing. Even with a world title around their waist, boxers often find it challenging to get meaningful fights, as the vast majority of the sport’s money follows their larger counterparts.
For the greater part of his 15 years in the paid ranks, Donnie Nietes was the victim of his own size. Despite being an ultra-talented pugilist who won world titles in the strawweight, junior flyweight and flyweight divisions, the Filipino boxer never got the opportunity to step out of his comfort zone and challenge a fellow beltholder in a unification fight.
Despite his lack of fortune, however, Nietes was stubborn enough to choose another path on which to stand out. He partnered up with longevity that has helped him remain unbeaten in 33 straight bouts following the lone setback in his career, a controversial get-go back in 2004 against a horribly overweight Angky Angkotta. More importantly 17 of those fights were world title encounters.
However thanks to the foundation of “SuperFly,” a series of events filled with the most talented fighters and the most mouthwatering match-ups in the 115-pound division and under, Nietes, who had 40 of his first 46 professional bouts in Asia, is now preparing for his second straight match-up in the U.S.A. What makes it more lucrative, on September 8, he will also have his second straight appearance on HBO, a well-respected network with an average viewership on boxing programs well over a half-million.
On the upcoming show that will take place at the historic Forum in Inglewood, California, Nietes, 41-1-4 (23), is heading north once more, as he is challenging for his fourth world title in as many weight divisions, against little known Aston Palicte. Up for grabs will be the vacant WBO belt left behind by one of boxing’s brightest young stars, Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue, who moved up in weight.
After his first appearance on “SuperFly2,” last February at the very same venue, a masterpiece performance against former world titleholder Juan Carlos Reveco in the form of a seventh round knockout, Nietes and his team are planning another massive outing come Saturday night.
“We had a great preparation for this coming fight of Donnie together with his trainer, my brother Edmund. We trained here in the U.S. for two months and back to the Philippines for one month, then came back here in the U.S. for five weeks for the final training camp. It was a great camp,” Nietes’s coach Edito Villamor told UCNLive.com in a recent interview.
This time, however, hence the bigger opponents at junior bantamweight, the Filipino contingent had to implement new forces in camp.
“We prepared Donnie with sparring against bigger and taller guys like 122-pounders, so that he will be ready for 115 pounds. We also took the help of conditioning coach Nick Curson.”
In fact, Nietes, who is ranked No. 1 by the WBO in his brand-new division, has to get used to larger foes in the future, in all areas. Come Saturday’s bout, Nietes will have to fight at a four-inch height disadvantage to Palicte. The latter could also feel some edge in terms of age, as he is nine years younger than his accomplished counterpart.
“I know Aston is taller and younger than me but I know how to fight tall fighters and my experience will be a big factor in the fight,” said Nietes on a media day, at the Wild Card Boxing Club on August 29.
The advantage on Nietes’ side, in terms of experience against top opposition, could not be clearer. The 36-year-old former three-division titlist has 162 championship rounds in his resume compared to zero on behalf of Palicte. That, however, does not mean that Nietes takes his opponent lightly.
“I believe my fight with Aston has a very real possibility of being the best fight of the night. We are both training very hard and I am sure that we will be at our very best on September 8 and will give all the fans a great fight,” Nietes said at the Filipino Community Center in Los Angeles, during a meet-and-Greet” session with local journalists.
The 27-year-old Palicte, 24-2 (20), who is currently ranked No. 2 by the WBO at 115 pounds, has yet to face a world class opponent, despite his eight years as a professional pugilist. The Filipino challenger, though having a reasonable height and reach advantage over most guys at junior bantamweight, does not really like to create distance between himself and his opposition. Instead he is known for his counterpunching while his foes are on the attack, a style that could create an interesting match-up against the shorter but well-oiled mover and quick, accurate shooter Nietes.
“I am the stronger, faster fighter in this bout and I need to take advantage of my height and reach. I believe I can knock out Nietes and make a name for myself with this win. If not by knockout, I will get a decision. This is a fantastic fight for all Filipino boxing fans and we will continue the great tradition of Filipino boxing into the ring on September 8 at the Forum,” said Palicte during media day at the Wild Card Boxing Club.
The match-up between Nietes and Palicte will also be a rare occasion, with two fighters from the Philippines squaring off for a major world title.
“I think it’s very important that Filipino boxing has reached the level where we fight for a world title against each other and at a historic venue like the Forum and on HBO,” declared Nietes, who, interestingly also shares a province with Palictes, both living in Negros Occidental in the Philippines, less than 23 miles from each other.
For Palicte, a win on Saturday over one of the most accomplished Filipino boxers of his generation would mean the world. For Nietes, however, a victory is also really important, as it would make him the third fighter from his country who won world titles in four different weight classes. Only legendary Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire were able to reach that goal.
The foresight of Team Nietes, though, reaches way further than the upcoming bout against their countryman.
“If Donnie beats Palicte – and I believe he will – I would like Donnie to fight Mexican former world champion Juan Francisco ‘Gallo’ Estrada. I know the Mexican Estrada well. He fought Melindo in a war,” declared Villamor, referencing a WBA/WBO flyweight world title bout between his protégé Milan Melindo and then-champion Estrada back in 2013, won by the Mexican boxer via unanimous decision.
“Estrada is a really good fighter, a tough challenge to overcome. So, I think Nietes-Estrada would be a great fight. But first, we have to deal with Palicte. We respect him and do not overlook past anybody,” concluded the trainer, in front of a host of journalists on August 3 in St. Mark’s Hotel in Cebu City, Philippines.
Villamor also shared Nietes’ wish list of opponents for this later stage of the fighter’s career, when he told this writer, “Donnie has a dream of fighting (WBC champion Srisaket Sor) Rungvisai, Estrada and (Roman) ‘Chocolatito’ (Gonzalez).”
Can the future see these super-fights that Nietes would highly deserve after his long and highly successful pro run?
It is hard to tell without an oracle sphere.
A win, however, especially if it links up with a good performance on Saturday, would not hurt these dreams.
Let’s see how Nietes handles size and power at this new weight against an opponent in Palicte, who may be a good enough test, for starters.
The next – and possibly final – chapter of Nietes’s career will start this weekend. A chapter with the hope of salvation for 15 years of fistic excellence.