A dozen years ago, when Donnie Nietes arrived in Cebu from Negros Occidental, he was only 19. He had studied elementary in the town of Murcia, 20 minutes away from Bacolod — the city where he finished high school in Brgy. Granada.
“My uncle Adin Nietes was then the chief cook at the ALA Boxing Gym,” said Donnie. “I was a young boy from Negros who loved boxing. I asked my uncle if I could work in Cebu.”
His first job: a janitor. “I worked as a utility boy,” he said. But, while mopping floors and throwing the garbage kept him busy the whole day, his eyes were fixed on another prize: boxing. “My ambition was to become a boxer,” Donnie said. On his spare hours, he trained. Gradually, this diminutive teenager who spoke Ilonggo became the gym’s hardest-worker.
Today, Donnie Nietes is the personification of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s adage: “Without ambition, one starts nothing. Without work, one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”
When we met last Tuesday for lunch, Donnie was groovy and dapper. He wore a striped long-sleeves polo shirt that folded near his elbows. The color: purple. Same with his shoes; a trendy brand called “DC” worn by skateboarders. Color: purple. On his left wrist was a giant-size watch by G-Shock. His face was clean-shaven except for the goatee.
Nietes today is a world champ in hip and fashion. “Everything we learned from Sir ALA,” he said, including tips on “how to look like a world champ.”
Antonio Lopez Aldeguer, whose ALA gym was started 28 years ago, has nurtured his fighters not just in the art of punching — but in bigger arena of life. “He’s not only our manager but he’s a father to us,” Donnie said. “He provides guidance and advises us on all matters including money, our attitudes and even what clothes to wear.”
But one question Mr. Aldeguer often asks Donnie, why purple? “I like the color,” said Donnie, laughing. What’s no laughing matter is this: Nietes will be ready for Moises Fuentes when their rematch unfolds two Saturdays from now at the SM MOA Arena.
Part of Donnie’s focused training is staying at the ALA gym for two months prior to fight day. Because while Nietes has owned a house through his earnings and resided there for years, he has to sleep at the ALA gym quarters.
“The fighters have to be completely focused,” said ALA gym trainer Edmund Villamor, who joined us for lunch. “There’s an 8 p.m. daily curfew and the guards won’t let anyone out. Everyone has to stay-in and they only go home Saturday night and come back Sunday.”
Nietes is taking the May 10 bout seriously, even if it takes time away from his partner, Mary Joy Cayao, and their two daughters, aged two years old and four months.
The stakes are high. Nietes ruled the WBO minimum weight (105 lbs.) division when he defeated Pornsawan Porpramook in Sept. 30, 2007. “I consider that victory, my first world title, to be the most memorable of my career,” Donnie told me. We had lunch at the Cebu I.T. Park and he pointed to the actual venue — the Waterfront Hotel — which was just a few hundred of meters away.
He defended the world title from 2007 until 2011. He then moved up in weight to win the Light Flyweight class, defeating Ramon Garcia Hirales in October 2011 in front of his fellow Ilonggos inside the La Salle Coliseum. We witnessed that historic bout in Bacolod.
From Sept. 2007 until now, he’s been world champ — and is just months away from breaking the seven-year record (1960 – ’67) of the great Gabriel “Flash” Elorde.
Donnie — who’ll turn 32 this May 13 — still has many years of boxing ahead. He plans to move up in weight soon.
This early, he’s looking to the future. He’s a businessman. Two years ago, he opened a rice-and-feeds store in Mansilingan, Bacolod. “My parents, Josue and Renelia, manage the store,” he said. He might also open a Cebu eatery in partnership with some friends. And, looking ahead, he will help train future champions. But, for now, it’s Pinoy Pride XXV.