The first time the current WBO Inter-Continental Flyweight Champion got punched in the face, he says, was in kindergarten.
A five-year-old getting involved in a fist-fight is too early, we think. Donnie “Ahas” Nietes—who won in his flyweight debut over ex-World Champ Edgar Sosa during Pinoy Pride 38 last Saturday—could just be saying this to effect angas or yabang. But the man doesn’t send out even a sliver of either characteristic. Donnie is too earnest, too mild-mannered, probably even too shy for that.
He can’t recount details of the scuffle completely, but what he knows is, “Sobrang bata ko pa. Naglalaro kami ng—ewan ko kung anong tawag sa Tagalog, pero sa Bisaya, tak-si—yung binabato yung pera. Nagkainitan, nagkapikunan tapos nagsuntukan kami. Pero talo talaga ako kasi malilt ako tapos malaki yung kalaban ko. Iyak na lang ako nang iyak.”
To be fair, that was 29 yeas ago.
But if we we’re being completely honest, the man from Murcia, Negros Occidental, today, stands at 5 foot 3 inches. You can argue, that’s still relatively “small,” and that you’re likely taller, much taller.
Inside the ring, of course, Donnie is bigger, so much bigger. To date, Donnie’s professional fight stats lists 39 wins (22 of them by knockout), 4 draws, and a single loss out of 44 fights total. He had held the WBO Light Flyweight title for seven years—long enough to break the record previously ruled by World Boxing Hall of Famer Gabriel “the Flash” Elorde. Not mentioning, the many plaudits and reviews spectators and fight analysts are putting out there when they call him “the Next Pacquiao.”
Donnie, on the other hand, is unfazed. At least not where the need to stay grounded and not forgetting where he came from is concerned. “Hindi ko naisip sa sarili ko na ako yung next Pacquiao. Kasi hindi ko rin inaasahan na umabot dito. Hindi ko rin inaasahan na malalagpasan ko yung record ni Elorde. Hindi naman ako napre-pressure kasi sa akin lang, bawat laban talagang paghandaan ko lang.”
You don’t get to hold a WBO championship title that long and have flaky mental discipline. As far as mental discipline goes, Donnie is a rock.
But it’s clear that the sport is not without it’s toll. He strains to hear what each of the crew is talking about, asks us to repeat questions louder and to please move to his right side when we do the interview, so he can hear us from his better ear. His left ear isn’t doing as good.
“Medyo hirap na ito makarinig nung tinamaan sa open-glove sparring. Training lang, pero napalakas.” He tells us, like it was part of the job and didn’t matter. It hadn’t mattered for a while, “Matagal na din ito, siguro mga three or four years. Pwede ko naman ipaayos, pero naisip ko, hindi na lang kasi pag umulit, ipapaayos mo rin.”
By the time we finish the interview, we cap the night off with dinner. Salabat for Donnie, little to no rice, and ulam that consists of little meat, and lots of vegetables. “Hindi naman bawal, pero mabigat kasi ako. Beer, siguro pagkatapos na lang ng fight.” Like we said, rock of mental discipline. Coach Edmund Villamor says this is Donnie’s diet even without a fight. “Mostly gulay talaga.”
Waiters, tricycle drivers, and pedestrians would tilt heads even when walking in a group of 11, Donnie’s coach, trainers, fellow ALA boxing stable fighters, and the FHM team included. “Idol!” and “Good luck sa laban!” Are the requisite call outs. He appreciates this, we think. Especially when he’s made no secret about his roots.
Wikipedia would be modest to call him a “utility man” before he was a boxer, but Donnie doesn’t mince words: “Nakapag-start ako ng boxing kase nag-janitor ako dati sa ALA boxing gym sa Cebu.”
He also believes in good luck. “Nung janitor ako, bukod sa paglinis ng gym, ako lang din nag-aalaga ng ahas ng manager ko. Kaya nung nakitaan nila na mahilig ako sa boxing at natulungan ako sa training, until nag-stop na ako ng pag-janitor, nag-focus na ako sa boxing. Yung first fight ko, dinala ko yung una kong inalagaang ahas na Philippine Python sa ibabaw ng ring. Kaya nila ako tinatawag na ahas.”
“Sa ngayon, Burmese python na. Yung albino, ang inaalagaan ko sa bahay.”
He drinks another mug of salabat, and shows us from his smartphone pictures of a late night TV guesting where he and two other fellow ALA boxers take the stage to showcase surprising talents. They were made to sing. “Yung kinanta ko 'Ako’y Sayo, Ikaw Ay Akin Lamang'. Masaya naman, relaxed lang.”
This from the man who doesn’t need to prove anything.
(This feature originally appeared in FHM March 2015 issue. Minor edits were made to reflect the fighter's record and title.)