Donnie Nietes knew what he was walking away from, even if he couldn’t know he would have to wait out the next step.

The former four-division titlist from Bacolod City, Philippines is finally set to return to the ring, facing Pablo Carrillo this Saturday at Caesars Palace Dubai in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The bout will mark his first since claiming the WBO junior bantamweight title in a 12-round win over Kazuto Ioka in Dec. 2018.

An order from the sanctioning body one month later left Nietes to negotiate terms for a mandatory title defense in the form of a rematch with countryman Aston Palicte. The fight was not what Nietes and his team had in mind, instead eager to pursue higher profile opportunities in the twilight of his storied career.

More than two years later, not a single regret has come of the path they chose. It didn’t directly lead to a superfight but has provided Nietes—who turns 39 in May—with a new team and somewhat of a fresh start.

“I’m very happy to be fighting for the first time since 2018,” Nietes stated during Thursday’s final pre-fight press conference. “After my last fight (with Ioka), I really did not want [a rematch with] Palicte. I did not want another Filipino versus Filipino fight.

“After two years, it's the perfect time to come back with the help of MTK Global and D4G Promotions."

Nietes (42-1-5, 23KOs) was part of a wave of fighters to sign with MTK last year, along with several Filipino boxers to join the D4G Promotions team. A lucrative offer was made to bring the supremely gifted boxer aboard, with Saturday’s undercard appearance marking the first step on what he figures to be a final victory lap in an 18-year career which has seen title wins at strawweight, junior flyweight, flyweight and junior bantamweight. In his absence, the 115-pound division has become more lucrative than ever with the likes of lineal champion Juan Francisco Estrada (42-3, 28KOs), former four-division titlist Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez (50-3, 41KOs), former lineal king Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and even his old rival Ioka who has held the WBO belt since 2019.

All of those fights are on the radar, none of which he feels has slipped away even after having not fought in the past 27 months.

“Simply put, the pandemic didn’t hinder my dreams to continue my career,” insists Nietes. “MTK Global and D4G made me a terrific offer to join.

“I still aim to fight the likes of Juan Estrada, Chocolatito Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox