IT’S difficult not to like Donnie Nietes. For starters, he is one of our two current world champions in boxing. He is affable, humble, and polite. A non-fan would be mortified to find out that he wraps a python around his torso when he makes his ring entrances.

Plus, his janitor-to-first-world champion of ALA Boxing yarn is big screen material, if you ask me.

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On a personal note, he was the first fighter I ever interviewed in a question and answer format back when this column was still in its infancy in 2007.

And what made it much sweeter is that he would win ALA Boxing’s first and only world title to date, soon after that column came out.

ALMOST. And that is why last Sunday afternoon, I started to cringe and fidget with the remote at around the 10th round, when Mario Rodriguez suddenly came alive and started to pummel Donnie with lefts and rights. Sensing that the defending champion was rapidly fading from the sweltering heat, the game Mexican poured it on.

For once, this self-proclaimed boxing fan writing a boxing column almost did the unthinkable: change channels.

STRATEGY. Early on in the fight, Donnie typically started out strong--peppering his opponent’s face with jabs, looping rights and uppercuts.

Rodriguez seemed strangely passive and unconcerned despite the beating he was taking, and I immediately suspected that it had a lot to do with his game plan. He was clearly conserving his strength, hoping to tire Donnie out.

As good as he is, Donnie is no Manny Pacquiao when it comes to stamina. In some of his fights, he has seemed quite vulnerable in the later rounds.

Rodriguez started to come alive in the seventh, but the final surge was felt from ninth round onwards. After Donnie suffered what seemed to be an innocuous cut on his left eye, “Dragoncito” attacked like a man possessed.

Donnie tried to fight back but seemed flummoxed by the intensity. He bobbed and weaved to avoid the oncoming artillery which was quite relentless, but he got tagged on numerous occasions.

Thankfully, he held on to survive the fight and demonstrated remarkable poise in the face of attrition.

SCORING. I thought the judges were quite generous in scoring the rounds for “Ahas” which we can only be thankful for. Though Donnie clearly won the first eight rounds, he lost the last four and one of those rounds could potentially have been scored a 10-8 for the challenger.

Stranger things have happened in Mexico.

IMPROVEMENT. Donnie clearly needs to shore up on his stamina.

While Rodriguez reportedly had the unfair advantage of having an electric fan to cool him off in between rounds, nonetheless, this was not the first time that Donnie has faded in the last few rounds of the fight.

Early on, Donnie was landing some big bombs and appeared quite giddy in taking out his opponent with a single punch. Perhaps it would serve him well to invest in the body early, and save some of the firepower in the last few rounds, to compensate for his stamina issues.

Great job, Donnie. The Last Round salutes you. You made us proud once again.

PANGARAP. I think it’s been ably demonstrated that Donnie can win anywhere, even in his opponent’s home turf.

Last Rounder Michael Lopez sent an e-mail opining that Donnie needs a big break and hopefully that would come in an undercard appearance for Pacquiao’s next fight.

I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but didn’t P-Noy say, “Pwede na ulit tayong mangarap?”

LAST ROUND. It’s on dapper lawyer-couple Dean Decal and Joji Decal. Cheers!

(jingo_quijano@yahoo.com)