Donnie Nietes hopes HBO spotlight opens door to big fights
Which Filipino boxer holds the record for most consecutive time as a world champion? If your answer was Manny Pacquiao, Flash Elorde or Pancho Villa, those are good guesses and great fighters, but you’d be wrong.
The correct answer, at 3,232 days between reigns in two divisions, is Donnie Nietes. It’s a surprising statistic to those who hadn’t seen it used as a promotional tag in recent years. Stars have risen and fallen in the sport’s lightest divisions, and in his native Philippines, but Nietes is still there, and now holds the IBF flyweight title, his third belt in as many weight classes.
Part of the reason he often gets overlooked is due to his style, which is reliable if not always remarkable. His unassuming personality, which has changed little since he worked his way up from the ALA Gym’s janitor to their first world champion, doesn’t grab attention. He’s also been unable to get the big fights he’d have wanted nearly 15 years into his pro career.
He hopes that will change after he makes his HBO debut on February 24, when he opens the “SuperFly 2” Boxing After Dark card at The Forum against mandatory challenger Juan Carlos Reveco. He’ll be fighting on the same broadcast as Juan Francisco Estrada, Srisaket Sir Rungvisai, Carlos Cuadras and McWilliams Arroyo, company he had long wanted to fight alongside – or against.
“This is the door that will open for me to be able to fight big fights in the United States,” said Nietes (40-1-4, 22 knockouts) in a phone interview following a workout at the Wild Card Gym. “This is the point of being a professional boxer, to fight in the U.S. on a big event like HBO.”
Nietes of Murcia, Negros Occidental, Philippines had previously held the WBO strawweight and junior flyweight titles, scoring wins over respected fighters Moises Fuentes, Francisco Rodriguez Jr. and Edgar Sosa during a run that has seen him unbeaten since his second year as a pro.
Even with his 36th birthday just months away, Nietes is hoping a big win against Reveco (39-3, 19 KOs) will lead to greater relevance, and earn him fights with other champions at 112 pounds, or perhaps even at 115 pounds.
“At this time I’m still young. Maybe many years to come,” Nietes said with a laugh. “I’m 24.”
Nietes’ promoter Michael Aldeguer of ALA Boxing had held two minor promotions for Nietes in the U.S. in 2015 and 2016, hoping to get the help from a big American promoter and network to put Nietes on the world stage. That came in the form of Tom Loeffler of 360 Promotions who added Nietes-Reveco to the card, but whether Nietes can create the demand to see him in big fights is on him.
“It would depend on how Donnie performs on February 24,” said Aldeguer. “His personality is on the reserved side, quiet, humble, not the flamboyant personality like the other fighters posses. His style of fighting may not be appealing to some but those who understand the sport appreciate his smarts and being a tactician in the ring.”
Nietes has spent the past few weeks in Los Angeles with trainers Edito and Edmund Villamor, sparring with the likes of Brian Viloria (who faces Artem Dalakian for the vacant WBA flyweight title in an off-TV bout). Nietes feels Viloria and Sammy Gutierrez, whom Nietes finished in three rounds back in 2013, have similar styles to Reveco, a two-time WBA flyweight titleholder whose losses came when he left his native Argentina.
Training in Los Angeles also allows Nietes to work with strength and conditioning coach Nick Curson, who first worked with Nietes before his second fight with Fuentes in 2014, and worked with him for a few other camps since then, fine-tuning his diet while working to improve his cardio, plus speed and power.
Some of the adjustments he’s encouraged with Nietes are the importance of down time to recover and supplementation as he seeks to extend his career.
“Donnie is very professional, humble and very coachable. Like many other champions, he does things the right way, all the time, in conditioning training, boxing, and any other interest,” said Curson. “He is meticulous in the delivery of his effort.”
Even if he’s scarcely gotten exposure in the States, Nietes says he still gets recognized around L.A. by boxing fans. If fame comes, it comes, he figures, but he’ll just keep punching his clock and doing his job just as he always has.
What does Nietes want to be remembered for when his career is finally over?
“Being humble, that’s it,” said Nietes.
Video by Cynthia Conte and Daniel Morales