The first “big” Filipino fight for us this month comes at Light Flyweight where WBO champion Donnie Nietes (35-1-4, 21) defends his belt against mandatory challenger Francisco Rodriguez Jr (17-2-1, 11). Whilst this is a mandatory title fight it is also one of the very best bouts that could be made at Light Flyweight, a division that has often been over-looked.
Nietes has been one of the most impressive lower-weight fighters over the last few years. He first became a world champion back in September 2007, at Minimumweight, and has held a world title every since. On paper his record is impressive with just a single, controversial, loss in 40 fights and in reality he's proven he can cope with anyone.
There are some who will suggest that Neites' competition has been poor over the years but wins over the likes of Pornsawan Porpramook, Manuel Vargas, Jesus Silvestre and Moises Fuentes are solid wins.
In the ring Nietes can do it all and has evolved over he years. At his best he's a phenomenal counter puncher who can stand in the pocket, land laser like shots and make opponents pay for every mistake. At other times he's a frustrating guy to watch, who relies on his natural ability and sleep walks through fights, as he did in his first meeting with Moises Fuentes. In recent times he's not only been a sharp counter puncher but he's been one who has been making statements with 4 successive stoppages against decent Mexican opponents.
A big question regarding Nietes, and one of the few that will linger over his head going in to the future, is his age. He's already 33 and with 40 bouts, 274 rounds, on the clock he may find himself getting old over-night. He's not shown his age yet but we know fighters in the lower weights do age suddenly and Nietes may go from ultra-sharp to “on the slide” almost in a single fight.
As for for the challenger, Rodriguez will be looking to build on a sensational 2014. He came from absolutely nowhere to be in the running for the hardcore fans Fighter of the Year as he unified both the WBO and IBF Minimumweight titles in stunning back-to-back performances and, were it not for a draw against Jomar Fajardo we'd have had no complaints with anyone voting for Rodriguez. The year saw him fight 4 times though he first came to our attention when he battered Merlito Sabillo to claim the WBO Minimumweight title just a few months later he over-came Katsunari Takayama to add the IBF title to his collection, in a bout later dubbed by many as the 2014 FOTY.
In the ring Rodriguez has had some mixed fortunes. At 105lbs he seemed to be really big and really strong with an aggressive attitude that saw him effectively fight as a bully. When he's fought at a higher weight, as he did in both in 2 fights with Fajardo, he has struggled to make his strength and power count. From those results it does seem like Fajardo isn't really ready to move up too high, though of course they were fought well above the Light Flyweight limit. At 108lbs he may well be more effective than he was against Faardo.
Aged 21 Rodriguez has a really, really bright future ahead of him. He's already been mixing with some genuinely elite level fighters, such as Roman Gonzalez, and has scored two huge wins. One more, over Nietes, would put Rodriguez on the verge of becoming one of the most accomplished youngster fighters in the sport. Although accomplished we do wonder how Rodriguez fares when the crowd want to see him beat, and when he's facing a real technician like Nietes. Against Sabillo and Takayama we saw Rodrgiuez beat fighters, warriors and men who traded with him, that won't be the case here.
In their ring we're expecting a little bit of a bull Vs matador. Rodriguez will know that to win on the road he needs to clearly win the bout and this will make him even more aggressive than usual. The extra aggressiveness will give Nietes chances and the Filipino will make the most of the opening to land crisp and clean straights and uppercutts. If Rodriguez can walk through the, then we wouldn't be shocked to see the fight become an all out war of attrition. If they take their toll however and Rodriguez slows then we see Nietes taking a relatively comfortable decision win.
The interesting scenario is if they do end up going to war. We think that would favour Rodriguez though he really will need to win the rounds clearly to get the win...and we don't think he'll manage that.
We wouldn't be shocked if this was the fight of the month, but really don't see the title changing hands, even if the fight end sup being one that the neutral would give to the visitor.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.