Donnie Nietes believes he’s got Kazuto Ioka figured out
Donnie Nietes and team believe that this fight on New Year’s Eve should be his first title defense, and not his second straight attempt at securing the WBO junior bantamweight title.
What was expected to be a crowning moment for Nietes, the moment he joined Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire Jr. as the only Philippine-born fighters to win world titles in four divisions, ended in a controversial draw against Aston Palicte last September. And now they’re heading to Macau to finish the job they started.
“I couldn’t accept it right away because it’s only natural for boxers to hear those kinds of decisions. That, even if you won, you will lose,” said Nietes (41-1-5, 23 knockouts) at the time.
Now, almost four months later, Nietes will try to walk out of the Wynn Palace Cotai with the belt when he faces Kazuto Ioka for the still-vacant title. To prepare for a different challenge, Nietes’ team made adjustments to their training camp, bringing in different sparring partners to the ALA Gym, like the well-traveled Renoel Pael, to give Nietes different looks in the ring.
“We switched and hired new sparring to get away from the comfort zone, and it was a big help for him,” said trainer Editor Villamor.
While Palicte was a naturally larger fighter who had been at 115 for most of his career, Ioka (23-1, 13 KOs) worked his way up from 105 pounds, winning titles from 105 to 112. Ioka, 29, announced his retirement in 2017, but returned 17 months later to defeat McWilliams Arroyo in his 115-pound debut on the same card as Nietes-Palicte. His lone defeat came in 2014, when he was frustrated by the awkward Amnat Ruenroeng in Ioka’s hometown of Osaka, Japan.
“Ioka is good and fast,” said Nietes before adding “I can get his style easily.”
“If Donnie thinks that way, he knows how to beat Ioka with the game plans we always do in the gym,” said Villamor. “It’s not about the style of both fighters; it’s about how they train in the gym.”
Ioka has fewer fights but had been moved along at an ambitious rate, winning a world title in his seventh pro fight and unifying against Akira Yaegashi by his third defense. Other notable wins include Felix Alvarado, who is the current IBF junior flyweight titleholder, and two wins over Juan Carlos Reveco, whom Nietes knocked out in seven earlier this year.
Ioka is the most accomplished fighter he has fought, but Nietes isn’t over-awed by him.
“[Ioka] probably isn’t the best among those I fought before. I can’t mention who, but there are many who may be better,” said Nietes, a native of Negros Occidental province in the Philippines.
The team has also flown in strength and conditioning coach Nick Curson, who has been at the Cebu City gym since November 23, to ensure Nietes’ 36-year-old body performs up to standard.
The fight will be shown in the Philippines by ABS-CBN live on Sky Cable pay-per-view, with a slight delay on free TV, said ALA Promotions president Michael Aldeguer. The other world title fights on the card, including the RING junior flyweight title showdown between Hekkie Budler and Hiroto Kyoguchi, and the IBF flyweight title bout between Moruti Mthalane and Masahiro Sakamoto, won’t be included, and nothing is yet set for a U.S. broadcast.
What started as a breakout year in Nietes’ 15th as a professional can still end the way he’d dreamt it.
“I’m still hungry whenever we have a fight,” said Nietes. “One of my goals is to be a four-division world champion.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and can be reached at [email protected].