By Cliff Rold
This Saturday, 34-year old former 105 and 108 lb. titlist Donnie Nietes (38-1-4, 22 KO) makes his long discussed debut in the flyweight division. He’ll face former 108 lb. titlist and one-time flyweight contender Edgar Sosa (52-9, 30 KO) to get his feet wet in the class (BeIn Espanol, 11 PM EST/8 PM PST). A couple years ago, Sosa might have been an intriguing test. More than a year removed from a shelling at the hands of Roman Gonzalez, it would be surprise if the 37-year old Sosa is strong competition.
Part of that is the quality of the man in front of Sosa. Nietes hasn’t made much of a splash in the US, though he makes his second appearance here in three starts. He’s been a gem to watch for fans in the Philippines. A thoughtful boxer with finishing ability, Nietes has notched a record of 14-0-1 in title fights and defeated several other titlist types from the lowest weight classes.
The flyweight division has been red-hot for most of this decade. Nietes would always have been a welcome addition. It was in discussion for a long time. Since at least 2014, there were rumblings from his camp that a move was imminent. Nietes challenging the likes of unified beltholder Juan Francisco Estrada or lineal kingpin Roman Gonzalez would have been hardcore manna.
The wait for Nietes to move up is no more. It’s finally happening…
…and the division isn’t so red-hot anymore.
Timing is everything. Already 34, time isn’t on Nietes side.
For Nietes’ chances of getting those established names in the ring, his timing couldn’t be worse.
Gonzalez successfully moved to 115 lbs. earlier this month. He’s staying there. Estrada has been sidelined with an injury for most of a year. Seeing the division’s biggest draw head north, he vacated his titles at flyweight and moved up right behind Gonzalez. His ring return is next month. Combining those two with Carlos Cuadras and Naoya Inoue, as well as solid talents like Jerwin Ancajas and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, the red-hot flyweight class is now the suddenly red-hot Jr. bantamweight field.
Flyweight is reduced to a still interesting but decidedly lukewarm remainder.
Japan’s Kazuto Ioka remains. Of all that is still standing at flyweight, that could be the best fight available for Nietes if such a fight could be made at all. Given his relationship with the WBO over the years (Nietes has worn their belts for both his title reigns), the most likely path to a third divisional title might end up being Zou Shiming.
Shiming is slated for a November rematch with Kwanpichit Onesongchaigym whom he defeated by decision in 2014. They are currently rated 2 and 3 in the WBO ratings at 112. Nietes, sans a fight at flyweight, is already rated #1. Given Estrada’s vacating of the crown, the WBO could elect to crown the winner of Shiming-Onesongchaigym II as their champion or make it an eliminator with the winner to face Nietes.
There’s nothing wrong with going through the paces to pick up what belt he can in a third weight class. Nietes has had a fine career and that would be a nice feather in his cap if he gets there.
It’s a far cry from getting the sort of career defining opportunity a fight against Gonzalez or Estrada would have brought.
The lower weights are a different economic animal than their bigger brethren. Stardom there rarely comes with seven figure paydays. Giving up belts is a bigger economic risk. Nietes and his team may have been looking at the big picture but they also knew there was at least some upside to the risks of moving up or they wouldn’t have talked about it regularly the last couple years.
It all begs the question: what was Team Nietes waiting for?
The fighter certainly said the right things. Just last year, they were quoted through various sources about wanting to face Estrada or Gonzalez. He remained at 108 lbs. a little longer. If he was serious about wanting those fights at 112 lbs., he let the train pass him by.
If he still wants them, he’s not done moving up in weight.
It would have been nice to see Nietes moved faster, and sooner. He’s the sort of good fighter whose ceiling has never quite been defined. There is no guarantee an earlier move up the scale would have secured the fights he’s said he wanted. He would have at least had a chance to force his way into someone’s mandatory line of sight.
Time hasn’t run out on Nietes yet but every day he’s a little bit older. He’s a very good fighter. The Sosa’s and Shiming’s aren’t going to tell us how good.
There is every reason to think that Nietes has come to the party just in time to dance alone.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org