Despite being a mess the Flyweight division is, slowly, taking shape and we've had some notable bouts recently, with more just around the corner. The next of those to take place will see former 2 weight champion Donnie Nietes (39-1-4, 22) battle with Thailand's Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking (22-3, 15) to fill the IBF title vacancy. For Nietes the bout could see him becoming a 3-weight champion and solidifying his place as a Filipino legend whilst a win for the Thai would put him on the proverbial boxing map and help make him a fixture on the international boxing scene.
Aged 34, and turning 35 in just a few weeks, Nietes is a properly seasoned veteran, but who who is scarcely showing signs of slow down. That's despite having a career that began back in 2003 and has seen him fight consistently in world title bouts since September 2007, when he claimed the WBO Minimumweight title. During his time at world level he has beaten a who's who of the lower weights, including Pornsawan Porpramook, Manuel Vargas, Jesus Silvestre, Mario Rodriguez, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Moises Fuentes, Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Raul Garcia and Edgar Sosa. He has compiled an amazing 14-0-1 record in world title fights and notched top tier wins in the Philippines, Mexico and US in a career which will almost certainly lead to a place in the HOF.
In the ring we've seen Nietes do it all. At his best he's a counter punching genius but he can fight on the front foot when he wants to, has under-rated power, under-rated speed and is not only technically sound but also has a very high boxing IQ. Given his age it seems clear he is now wanting to add to his legacy, and potentially chase some career defining wins, to add to his strong resume. He is however a fighter who has, at times, looked lazy, lacked the killer instinct and been happy to go through the motions, as he did last time out against Sosa. At his best he could well be one of the best little men in the sport, though failure to face the best Japanese fighters of his era is certainly something that will hang over his head given his long reign on top.
It's clear that Nietes can still go hard and fast for 12 rounds, though he has avoided really damaging bouts for the most part and is one of the freshest 34 year olds in the sport. Even then father time does take it's toll and it's unclear when Nietes will “get old”.
Whilst Nietes is well known at world level, and has long been on the fringes of the pound-for-pound lists with the real hardcore fans, the same cannot be said for Eaktawan, also known as Komgrich Nantapech. In fact the 27 year old Thai is a total unknown outside of Asia, and is hardly known outside of homeland. That's, in part, due to fighting under alternative names early in his career as well as having very little success outside of Thailand. In fact his first three losses, in 2012 to Albert Pagara and in 2013 to Sho Ishida and Froilan Saludar, were all fought under the name Tawanrung Eausampan. Since those losses however he has began to climb through the rankings and looked like a genuine talent with lovely offensive skills and combinations.
Although Eaktawan has shown some real skills, beating the likes of Lionel Legada, Takayuki Okumoto and Jenny Boy Boca there are flaws in his game. He is very much an offensive fighter, who has throws eye catching combinations, looks very relaxed and very fluid in the ring. Sadly he is defensively flawed, leaving openings for counters punches and a slightly open guard. Against a great counter puncher like Nietes he could be punished for his flaws. Saying that however he is likely to be the naturally bigger and stronger fighter against Nietes, and is obviously the younger, less damaged fighter. It's worth noting that his only losses have been above the Flyweight limit, with two losses coming at Bantamweight, and he is clearly a tough fighter.
The Thai is stepping up massively for this fight and although he has a number of advantages the question will be whether he has the skills to beat Neites. The obvious answer is that he doesn't have the skills needed to over-come someone as talented as the Filipino icon. However this is a niggling feeling that Eaktawan is better than his record suggests, and that he has the energy, young and toughness to make this a very tough assignment for Neites. We know that Nietes will be the favourite, and should win, but there is a niggling feeling that the Thai has got the timing right here, and could well spring one of the biggest upsets of 2017.