Donnie Nietes retained the WBO light flyweight title by earning a ninth-round knockout of Moises Fuentes at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, Philippines.
After the referee stoppage, the WBO congratulated the Filipino champion on his third straight defense:
The latest battle between the budding rivals came after a previous encounter last March ended in a draw by majority decision.
Nietes defended his title just once after that bout, knocking out Sammy Gutierrez in November. Fuentes was far more active, scoring three straight victories over Gerardo Verde (unanimous decision), Luis De la Rosa (first-round knockout) and Omar Salado (seventh-round knockout).
Given the entertaining nature of the first fight, which featured plenty of uptempo, heavy-hitting action from start to finish, it made sense to create a second attempt to find a clear winner. While a draw is rarely a satisfying result, it was a fair decision.
And since the fighters already had a history with each other, the pre-fight banter was taken to another level. JM Siasat of Rappler passed along comments from Nietes, who made it clear the challenger would need to go above and beyond to take the title away: "I won't run this time and I will win. He has to go over my dead body to win. I think I can knock him out."
Nietes came out like a fighter with every intention to back up that big talk. He was able to control the early rounds with an impressive combination of quickness and counterattacking. It was exactly what he needed to do in order to neutralize Fuentes' power.
Dennis Principe of the Manila Standard Today commented on Nietes' early success while scoring the second round in his favor:
Fuentes was finally able to start putting some pressure on the champion in the third round. He began connecting with some nice combinations, which forced Nietes out of that defense-and-counter comfort zone that was working so effectively early on.
In turn, the fourth round looked far more like what fans witnessed in the first fight. Both boxers were able to land some major shots to get the crowd into the bout. ABS-CBN Sports noted the turnaround by the Mexican star:
The surge seemed to take a lot out of Fuentes, though. His level really dropped off over the next couple rounds, and Nietes was able to regain control. By Round 6, the champion was connecting on some major shots to the head.
Edri Aznar of the Sun-Star Cebu pointed out that the damage was starting to become quite obvious by the end of the round:
Fuentes attempted to mount a couple rallies in the rounds that followed. He had moderate success, but he never reached a point where he was back level. Anytime he would make some progress, Nietes was able to end the threat with some quick counters.
Then, in the ninth round, Nietes found another gear and ended the fight. He started rocking the challenger with some very hard body shots and combinations, sending Fuentes to the mat a couple of times. Finally, after another heavy strike to the head, the referee stepped in.
Jingo Quijano of the Sun-Star Cebu had high praise for the champion's performance:
Ultimately, while there were still stretches of the fight that lived up to the same standard as the first meeting, Nietes was more dominant overall. Aside from a few rounds early on that were pretty even, the local favorite was clearly the better fighter.
The win marks the 25th straight fight without a loss for Nietes, who moves to 33-1-4 for his career. His last and only loss came against Angky Angkota a decade ago. Fuentes falls to 19-2-1 with the loss after a 7-0-1 streak.
Looking ahead, it's about time Nietes starts receiving more attention for his impressive run as of late. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him land on a bigger card the next time he returns to the ring, but finding someone capable of giving him a serious challenge is the key.
Meanwhile, Fuentes' stock takes a little bit of a hit with the loss. There's no doubt he's flashed top-end talent in recent years, but he just hasn't been able to get over the hump against the light flyweight title holder. Perhaps he'll get another chance down the line.
Even though the second fight wasn't as good as the first, it was certainly good enough to consider a third encounter at some point in the future.