By Francisco Salazar
Donnie Nietes may be 36 years old, but he does not seem to be showing his age. Based on his recent performances, Nietes looks to be getting better.
After dominating his opposition at 108 and 112 pounds, Nietes will make his debut as a junior bantamweight Saturday night against a fellow Filipino.
Nietes will face Aston Palicte at The Forum in Inglewood, California with the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title at stake.
The 12 round bout will precede the main event bout between junior bantamweight contender Juan Francisco Estrada and Felipe Orucuta. Both fights, along with the McWilliams Arroyo-Kazuto Ioka junior bantamweight fight, will air live on HBO (9:45 p.m. ET/ 6:45 p.m. PT).
Nietes (41-1-4, 23 knockouts) defended the IBF flyweight title for the final time in his last bout on Feb. 24, knocking out Argentina's Juan Carlos Reveco in round seven. The fight also took place at The Forum in Inglewood.
Unbeaten over a span of almost 14 years, Nietes is considered not only one of the most skilled fighters at 115 pounds, but in all of boxing. He may be considered at the elite level at 115 pounds, but he does quite think so.
"I'm in the middle (of the pack)," quipped Nietes.
Nietes may be modest in his assessment, but he does acknowledge the quality of the division, which includes, Estrada, WBC junior bantamweight titleholder Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez, and IBF titleholder Jerwin Ancajas.
"The talent at (115 pounds) is exceptional," Nietes told BoxingScene.com through interpreter Eddie De La Vega.
"I'm excited to move up in weight and face the talent at the level. It was easy for me to move up in weight."
Nietes will have his hands full against Palicte, who is ranked number two by the WBO. Nietes is the mandatory challenger for the title.
Palicte (24-2, 20 KOs), who resides in Bago City, may not have faced the level of opposition as Nietes, but he has nothing to lose and everything to gain in winning on Saturday night. Nietes is wary of dangers Palicte possesses.
"The hardest thing is that he is taller and stronger than I am. He's a natural super flyweight. He's also younger. Those are the challenges that we are facing. But I'm ready to face it."
Palicte has a four-inch height advantage over Nietes.
The soft-spoken Nietes could unify the junior bantamweight division in another all-Filipino clash against Ancajas or he could look to face Sor Rungvisai. Even a fight with Estrada is a possibility.
A win over Palicte will mean to Nietes and his countrymen.
"(A win over Palicte) will prove that I'm better than anyone at this weight class. A win will also mean a lot to me and the Filipino people."
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper, BoxingScene.com. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing.