Monday, January 12, 2015

Fair Play: What makes Donnie a great champion

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's Jan 12 edition)
DURING his testimonial dinner, while guests were enjoying the sumptuous food that would make weight-watchers cringe, Donnie Nietes got a plateful of green, leafy vegetables. (Hey kids, eat your veggies, be strong like Donnie.)

“Are you training?” I asked Donnie and pointed out his plateful of vegetables.


“Ha?” he said and I got a look as if I just asked a priest if the Pope is Catholic.

The disciplined champion that he is, Donnie is never “not training.”

He told me that once he let loose and gained a few pounds over the holidays and he had a hard time losing but that happened only once.

I can tell you, or cite so many sources, how very difficult it is to retain a world title for seven years, but you really can’t relate with that. But perhaps you can relate with this, Donnie was the 105-pound champion from 2007 to 2010, and the 108-pound champion from 2011 until the present and not once did he have any problems with his weight.

Of course, this isn’t Hollywood--though Donnie’s life story begs for a movie--his stint in ALA was far from perfect. In fact, Sir Tony Aldeguer himself said he once threatened to boot Donnie out.

Then a newbie fighter, Donnie, together with some boxers, broke a rule. Ever the disciplinarian, ALA called the guilty boxers and told them to “get your bags and leave.”

That’s when Donnie, who has never been knocked out or knocked down, almost fainted. He was so determined to pursue a career in boxing and become a champion, that the thought of getting kicked out of the ALA stable was too much.

A few years later, when he became a champion, he got another taste of ALA’s discipline.

Donnie and Rey Bautista went to the mall and missed ALA’s 8 p.m. curfew. Naturally, the guard, as instructed, refused to let them in when they returned.

So they called up ALA to say that they got a bit late and asked if they could come in.
ALA said, “No! Go find a place to spend the night.”

So the world champion spent the night underneath a flyover, a lesson in humility and discipline that all athletes—not just boxers—should learn from.

But aside from humility and discipline, what makes Donnie unique is his fierce determination to win. He told me that night, that once in Mexico, in 40-degree heat, he almost passed out in the 10th round against Mario Rodriguez.

After pouring cold water all over his head in the 10th, he jolted himself back and then, in his own words, fought his way in the 11th and 12th rounds.

For Edito Villamor, that fight showed Donnie’s determination. If it was another fighter, he would have quit long before the 10th round, but not Donnie. That fight in Mexico, too, was one of the reasons why the Mexican press loved Donnie and his style.

They even had him in their covers with the headlines, “Complete fighter” and “Night of History.” Can you remember a local or national paper extolling a Mexican who fought a Filipino?

Up to now, he’s the only Filipino fighter to have won three title defenses in Mexico and Donnie said he’s more comfortable fighting there than at home. He even admitted that one of his most difficult fights was the one against Ramon Garcia-Hirales for the WBO light flyweight title in Baclod.

He had difficulty sleeping because, even if he tried to avoid thinking about it, every time he closes his eyes, it always hits him, “I’m fighting in front of my kababayans and I have to win.”

“In Mexico, I sleep soundly because there’s no pressure. All I think about is the fight,” he said.

Donnie is a great champion, a one-of-kind boxer but the greatest tribute that can be said of him is the one from the wife of Flash Elorde himself and it’s not about his skills on the ring.

Veteran writer Ronnie Nathanielsz, who accompanied Donnie in a visit to the Elordes after he broke the record, qouted Mrs. Elorde, “I am glad that the one who surpasses Elorde’s record is himself a decent and humble Filipino champion.”

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