BRASH challenger Francisco Rodriguez knows his role perfectly--the visiting villain to the hometown hero.
Rodriguez, 21, called Donnie Nietes an old champion who should be ready to let the new blood take over, earning the ire of the down-to-earth champion.
Donnie, old? Naah. Older may be, in the sense that 33 is older than 21. But an old champion? No way Jose, or should I say, Paco.
Besides, there’s a string of fights in his early reign as a champion--a young champion to use Paco’s reference--when Donnie showed he didn’t rely on his youth to win.
What Donnie relied on is what athletes rarely have and what his handlers, coaches and fans have seen in him all these years--that iron will to win.
While Francisco Rodriguez was still 15 years and seven months old, Nietes won the first of his three world title defense in Mexico, downing Erik Ramirez in Rounds 1, 5, 9, and 12 to win by unanimous decision. Those four knockdowns (10-8 rounds) and eight-point swing turned the tide as one judge saw him win by a narrow 113-111 decision. The other two had it 116-108 and 115-109.
My friend Dennis Canete, the former vice-president of ALA, told me during a testimonial dinner for Donnie that the champ doesn’t know the meaning of the word “quit.”
“Lahi gyud si Donnie, di gyud mu-surrender. Grabe ang iyang will to win,” he said. I could have translated that, but somehow it sounds different in Cebuano.
Six months later, Donnie returned to Mexico, this time dismissing Manuel Vargas in 12 rounds to defend his title.
But it was on Aug. 14, 2010 that Dennis said he saw how unique Donnie was.
On Aug. 14, 35 days after Paco turned 17 and Donnie was a month shy of becoming a champion of three years at 28, the champ was back in Mexico again, battering Mario Rodriguez in Sinaloa Mexico in 12 rounds for a 119-109, 118-110, 116-112, decision.
It was his third win in a title fight against a Mexican in Mexico, something no Filipino fighter has done before.
The scores show it was an easy fight, but what it didn’t show, as Dennis told me, was how hot the venue was and how the hometown fighter had fans directed at him with none for Donnie.
“It was so hot and if it was another champion, he would have given up. But not Donnie,” Dennis said.
At 28, Donnie was a young champion but he didn’t rely on his youth but on that iron will.
So yes, at 33, the champ may be older than Paco’s 31 but old he is not.
And, if by turning 30 guys like Paco thinks boxers like Donnie are out to pasture, again he may be wrong.
Since turning 30 in 2012, Donnie has fought seven times--six of those fights were title fights.
Of those seven fights, five foes didn’t last distance, including in his last four fights. The only one he had a hard time with was Moises Fuentes, when he got a majority draw.
But in their rematch, Fuentes was off dreaming after nine rounds. That fight, which happened just 14 months ago was the best of Donnie Nietes.
In a way, Franciso Rodriguez is right. At 33 Donnie is older, but an old champion he is not.
I believe the Mexican will find that out tonight.