Nietes survives heat to retain WBO crown w/ full fight replay video

By Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star)

MANILA, Philippines - Withstanding oven-like conditions, WBO minimumweight champion Donnie Nietes leaned on an early lead to stave off challenger Mario (Dragoncito) Rodriguez and retain his title via a unanimous 12-round decision at the Auditorio Luis Estrada Medina in Guasave, Sinaloa, Mexico, yesterday morning (Manila time).

Rodriguez launched a desperate rally in the late rounds as Nietes appeared to fade but couldn’t bring down the Murcia, Negros Occidental, fighter who has now made four successful defenses, three in Mexico.

The thermometer hovered between 35 and 38 degrees in Guasave but the heat had to be more intense in the ring. Nietes was drained at the sound of the final bell. However, there was no doubt he was the superior fighter.

“I wanted to knock him out because I was afraid of losing by a hometown decision,” said Nietes in an overseas call. “I broke his nose and I thought the referee would stop it. But the guy was durable. I couldn’t even knock him down. I hit with a lot of good shots and he kept coming back.”

The heat took a heavy toll on Nietes in the multi-purpose hall which wasn’t air-conditioned.

“Medyo kinapos sa huli,” he admitted. “But I knew I had a big lead. I don’t think Rodriguez won a single round in the first eight rounds. He never gave up. He was determined to win because he didn’t want to disappoint the hometown fans.”

Nietes, 28, dictated the tempo in the first three rounds, pounding Rodriguez’ head with jarring left jabs. Rodriguez picked up the pace in the fourth canto, moving into Nietes’ zone to throw short, clubbing right hooks. But Nietes continued to find the mark with vicious uppercuts in combination with shots to the side of the body. In the eighth, blood spewed out of Rodriguez’ nose and turned his face into a crimson mask.

Rodriguez, 21, broke out of his shell to up his work rate in the 10th round. Nietes suffered a cut in the corner of his left eyebrow and claimed he was butted. It seemed like Nietes was bothered by the wound as he fought defensively the rest of the way. He later explained the heat sapped him of the energy to put on a blistering finish.

“I was never groggy – he was, not me,” said Nietes. “It was a big honor for me to beat a Mexican in his hometown. I showed I’m not afraid to fight anyone, anywhere.”

ALA Boxing Gym owner Tony Aldeguer said the plan was to go for a knockout but the climate didn’t cooperate.

“A few weeks ago, Johnriel Casimero fought in Sinaloa and warned us of the sweltering heat,” said Aldeguer. “Donnie didn’t go up against only a tough challenger but also the elements. In the dressing room before the fight, he was already perspiring profusely. We were apprehensive about the fight going the distance because of the hometown advantage. Erik Morales, who promoted the fight, is very influential after all and I remember the referee (Raul Caiz Sr.) was the judge who scored it for Fernando Montiel in Z Gorres’ loss by split decision for the WBO superflyweight title in Cebu in 2007. Can you imagine we were robbed in our own backyard? In Rodriguez’ hometown, we thought the only way Donnie could win was by knockout.”

But the judges proved to be more than fair. Alejandro Lopez Cid of Mexico City scored it 118-110, Levi Martinez of New Mexico, 119-109 and Thomas Nardone of Florida, 116-112 – all for Nietes.

“Rodriguez was stronger in the end because he’s used to the weather,” said Aldeguer. “I was worried about Donnie collapsing like Sugar Ray Robinson in the Joey Maxim fight.”

The win raised Nietes’ record to 27-1-3, with 15 KOs. Rodriguez’ mark dipped to 10-6-3, with seven KOs. Nietes weighed in at the minimumweight limit of 105 pounds while Rodriguez tipped the scales at 103.2.


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