Donnie “Snake” Nietes (out of Philippines, now 36-1-4) asserted his dominance as the world’s #1 108lb fighter today with a tactically brilliant if narrow defeat of ironman Francisco “Titanium” Rodriguez (out of Mexico, drops to 17-3-1) in Cebu, Philippines. Falling short of my pre-fight prediction of a fight of the year candidate, this was nevertheless an absorbing contest won by Nietes on the official cards by scores of 115-113, 119-109 and 118-110. The closest of these cards mirrored my own.
Despite seeing it closer than two of the officials I was impressed, once again, with the guile of the Snake. He reads a fight as well as anyone in boxing right now and he identified, early, what it was that he needed to do to triumph.
This was to keep Rodriguez off him. Having recognised Nietes as the puncher here, I suspected this would mean an aggressive approach from him from the first, but in fact Nietes, after testing the waters of the potential shoot-out in the second, preferred to bait and trap Rodriguez. This, he did, and with great success, allowing Rodriguez the box-seat for punches but always ready to bring over his right hand, so inevitable in its accuracy, and a super right uppercut to the body. This had a deeply discouraging effect on Rodriguez and his swarming fight-plan was soon compromised. Coming in low, he denied himself the left-hook to the body, a punch that has served him so well in the past and one to which Nietes has appeared vulnerable, in favour of sniping punches to the head, which were enough to keep the fight close but at no time saw him nose into the lead.
As to noses, Rodriguez very likely finished this fight with his broken. Nietes is underestimated as a puncher and although he is not a concussive knockout artist, his blows have a wearying affect, and did so even on the man they call Titanium. Rodriguez perhaps picked up the sixth round due to some excessive waiting on the part of Nietes, leaving the fight all square on my card, but it was clear that Nietes had assumed control, even if it was left to Rodriguez to decide when and how often they would squabble. Nietes dominated these squabbles in the seventh, eighth and ninth, making Rodriguez miss, landing every punch in the book from the left uppercut to the right hand to the body, and generally making the Mexican pensive about the surges that serve him so well.
They served them exquisitely well when he took on Katsunari Takayama last year in Mexico but Takayama had so little punching power, Rodriguez was able to just barrel through him and land his own blows. Here, Nietes forced him to hold which soon degraded into elbowing and pushing on the back of the head, infractions that drew repeated warnings but no deductions from notorious referee Russel Mora. Nietes, the very personification of cool in the ring, did not so much as blink but rather calmly returned to outmanoeuvring and out-thinking the by now reticent Rodriguez.
A Mexican still, he rallied in the tenth and eleventh, stealing these rounds from a tiring Nietes on aggression and persistence although his reluctance to pull the trigger in his swarming remained apparent. It was apparent, too, when Nietes, thirty-three years young, let it all hang out to dominate the twelfth and earn himself a unanimous rather than a split decision, that he was resting rather than fading in previous round.
For Rodriguez, it is time for a long hard look in the mirror. He is only twenty-one but he struggled desperately to make the 108lb limit, despite having won his straps at 105lbs. It is unlikely he will ever see that weight again and arguably he should abandon 108 also. Forcing a twenty-one year old body into a weight-class that has all but rejected him may not be wisdom, but equally it seems a career as an opponent – all be it a high class one – beckons in the deeper waters up at fly.
Still, Rodriguez is never in a bad fight. Whatever he does next I will be watching.
For Nietes, the domination continues. The one loss on his record, against Angky Angkotta all the way back in 2004 was a hideous decision and his streak since then is phenomenal. He will remain an underrated figure in the west, but in the corner of the world where they know him, the Snake remains poised.