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By Dong Secuya
27 Dec 2018

CEBU – Donnie 'Ahas' Nietes, the one-time utility boy from Cebu's famed ALA Gym, has achieved so much in his boxing career few boxers can only dream of accomplishing.

For starters, he is the Philippines' longest reigning world champion, breaking the record held by Filipino legend Gabriel 'Flash' Elorde for 50 years.

He is a three-division world champion becoming only the third Filipino in history to achieve such a feat behind Manny Pacquiao (8) and Nonito Donaire Jr (4).

He was named WBO super champion joining a handful of elite group of boxers honored by the august boxing body including Wladimir Klittscho, Oscar de la Hoya, Bernard Hopkins, Sergey Kovalev, Manny Pacquiao, Vasiliy Lomachenko and Terence Crawford.

He is Ring Magazine's lineal champion joining an exclusive group of only nine Filipinos who have been accorded such an honor.

Currently he is ranked No. 10 by The Ring as the planet's best pound for pound boxers, joining stars Vasiliy Lomachenko, Terence Crawford, Canelo Alvarez, Aleksander Usyk, Gennady Golovkin, Naoya Inoue, Mikey Garcia, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Errol Spence Jr.

He has a statue built in his honor at his hometown in Murcia, Negros Occidental.

Donnie Nietes poses at his own statue in his hometown in Murcia, Negros Occidental.

If not for his controversial split decision loss to an overweight Angky Angkotta of Indonesia in a fight held at Angkotta's backyard in Jakarta on Sep. 8, 2004, Nietes would still be undefeated. He has a record of 41 wins, 1 loss and 5 draws in a career spanning 15 years.

But with all his achievements, Nietes, now 36, still flies under the radar. His fights don't create the buzz from fans and the media. He has become a boxing legend – but not a star.

Highly technical, precise counterpunching with economical punch output define Nietes's boxing style that doesn't equate much to an exciting fight whether live or on TV, was blamed for Nietes's unpopularity.

Even when he was already a world champion, it was said people came to watch him fight only because he had his pet snake wrapped around his neck and brought to the ring during his fights. His underachiever stablemate Rey 'Boom-Boom' Bautisa and Z Gorres whose boxing career was cut short due a ring accident, were more popular than him even during Nietes's run as world champion.

Unassuming, ever-humble and respectful, Nietes's personality, lack of charisma and passive boxing style were all blamed for his unpopularity. These things may have contributed to Nietes's lack of star-power, but it is our opinion that the main culprit was Nietes's lack of defining fights.

Throughout history boxing names were immortalized not because they stood alone at boxing's mountaintop, unchallenged by nobody, but they were remembered because of the great wars they fought against fellow boxing greats, legends and hall of famers.

Muhammad Ali, considered by many as the greatest boxer in the history of the sport, had his name forever intertwined with that of Smokin' Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton and Sonny Liston because of the ring wars he fought against them and because of the incredible individual achievements by each one of them.

The Ali-Frazier fight in Manila in 1975 was adjudged fight of the century.

We have Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran in the 1980's considered by many as the last great era of boxing.

Mexican legends Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales will forever be remembered because of the three great wars they fought.

Manny Pacquiao had Barrera, Morales and Marquez, and then had Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Manny Pacquiao engages Mexican legend Erik Morales in a classic trilogy.

For Donnie Nietes, who has he fought? Really? Could anyone remember Nietes's last great fight against a great fighter?

Nietes knocked out Moises Fuentes in their WBO light flyweight championship on May 10, 2014 in a rematch of their first fight that ended in a draw whom many thought Fuentes had won. It was a fight that sort of acknowledged Nietes as an elite fighter in the lower weights. He also dominated cocky Mexican Francisco Rodriguez Jr in a unanimous decision win on Sep. 11, 2015. Fuentes however, never recovered from the Nietes loss and eventually became a fodder for rising Japanese prospects. Rodriguez, who logged another loss, against Fuentes, after the Nietes fight, had a good run since but has yet to figure in another world title fight.

Donnie Nietes stops Moises Fuentes during their rematch on May 10, 2014.

Nietes defeated Raul Garcia, Edgar Sosa and Juan Carlos Reveco but these fine fighters were already on their last legs when Nietes fought them. In fact the three of them never fought again after losing to Nietes.

Nietes, early on, defended his WBO minimum title three times inside Mexico, quite a feat in the lower weights as Mexico has always been considered to have the best fighters in these divisions. But who can recall or care the names of Erik Ramirez, Manuel Vargas and Mario Rodriguez?

If Nietes fought the biggest names in the lower weights, his career trajectory might be different. There were talks, even four years ago, that he was targeting Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez, then considered as the world's top pound for pound fighter, and Mexican star Juan Francisco Estrada, arguably the two biggest names in the lower weights. Those fights however never materialized and Nietes was overtaken by the unheralded Thai puncher Srisaket Sor Rungvisai who defeated Gonzalez (twice) and Estrada to assume the mantle as the king of the lower weights.

Nietes last fought compatriot Aston Palicte, again a name that doesn't ring a bell, for the vacant WBO world superfly crown last September in a fight many saw he won but was declared a draw. Even if he won that fight to capture his fourth division title, it would add up something to his legacy, but little to his star-quality.

Donnie Nietes catches Aston Palicte with a right.

Now comes his fight against Japan's Kazuto Ioka for the still vacant WBO world superfly crown this coming Monday, Dec. 31, in Macau – for the first time in his career Nietes will be fighting a veritable star. A win over Ioka will not only add up to his already fabled legacy but would finally give him the recognition as a real boxing star.

Ioka (23-1-0, 13KOs) won his first world title in 2011, the WBC minimumeight diadem, in his seventh professional fight just before he turned 22. He defended the title three times, the last one a unification bout against fellow Japanese star Akira Yaegashi before capturing the WBA light flyweight crown on Dec. 31, 2012 against Mexican Jose Alfredo Rodriguez for his second division world title. He again defended the belt three times before challenging IBF world flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng of Thailand on May, 7, 2014 in an attempt to capture his third world division world crown. Ioka lost to the wily Thai in a controversial split decision, the only loss of his career.

After winning two comeback fights, Ioka then challenged WBA world flyweight champion Juan Carlos Reveco of Argentina who held the belt for two years up to that point on April 22, 2015 in a fight held in Osaka, Ioka's birthplace, where he finally captured his third division world title by edging Reveco with a majority decision win. Ioka defended the title five times until April, 2017, including a TKO rematch win over Reveco.

On Dec. 31, 2017, Ioka, who married singer Nana Tanimura earlier in May, stunned the boxing world when he announced his retirement at only 28 years old. He told the media then he had already achieved his goal of capturing world title belts in three divisions. Rumors had it though that he had a failing with his father Kazunori Ioka, who was also his trainer, who was not a fan of his relationship with Tanimura. In August this year, Ioka hit the headlines in Japan, not related to boxing, but for his relationship with his wife that reportedly went sour. The couple later filed for divorce that was finalized last month.

While vacationing in Los Angeles in February after his retirement, Ioka bought tickets to watch Superfly 2 headlined by Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs Juan Francisco Estrada where the Thai star successfully defended his belt he won from Roman Gonzalez. Also on the card was McWilliams Arroyo's impressive win against former world champion Carlos Cuadras as well as Donnie Nietes's demolition of Juan Carlos Reveco whom Ioka fought and beat twice. Lastly there was also Artem Dalakian who defeated Brian Viloria.

Kazuto Ioka was impressive in his win against McWilliams Arroyo.

Ioka was captivated by the atmosphere at The Forum in Inglewood, California and decided he could compete with these guys. He set the motions for his comeback and was matched to face Arroyo on Superfly 3 in September where Nietes was also in the same card against Palicte. Although he was out in the ring for 17 months, Ioka, now being trained by Cuban Ismael Salas, was impressive in his return, sending the Puerto Rican to the canvas in the 3rd round en route to a convincing unanimous decision victory.

Ioka, who at 29 is at the peak of his physical prowess, is now aiming to become the first Japanese fighter to win world titles in four divisions against Nietes.

For Nietes, who seems to be getting better with age, he will finally get his defining fight against a fellow three-division world champion. Hopefully this opportunity has not come too late in the day.

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