Donnie Nietes vacates flyweight belt, moves up for 115-pound shot

Donnie Nietes, the most decorated fighter from the Philippines in recent decades other than Manny Pacquiao, has vacated his flyweight world title to move up in weight in search of a belt in a fourth weight division.

Nietes officially vacated his 112-pound belt on April 5 but did not announce the move until holding a news conference Wednesday in Cebu in the Philippines, where he also announced his intention to campaign in the 115-pound junior bantamweight division.

"Today, I have made my decision to move up to 115 and vacate my IBF flyweight world title," Nietes said. "This is the challenge I have been waiting for. To go up in weight is never easy, but this is my dream, to become a four-division world champion and to fight all the big names. This is a new challenge for me, and I am very happy that ALA Promotions has supported me to pursue my dream of a fourth division world title."

The move up in weight puts Nietes in one of the deepest divisions in boxing, one that is home to fighters such as world titleholders Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Jerwin Ancajas (also from the Philippines) as well as former champion Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada.

Nietes (41-1-4, 23 KOs), 35, retained his flyweight belt with an impressive seventh-round knockout of former titlist Juan Carlos Reveco at The Forum in Inglewood, California, in his HBO debut on Feb. 24 on a card that also featured Sor Rungvisai-Estrada. Nietes is unbeaten since 2004 and has won world titles at strawweight, where he made four title defenses; junior flyweight, where he made nine, and flyweight where he made his lone defense against Reveco.

ALA Promotions CEO Michael Aldeguer said the plan is for Nietes to go after the vacant WBO junior bantamweight belt. The WBO has ranked Nietes No. 1 per the organization's rules that give titleholders moving up in weight a chance to immediately challenge for the belt in the higher weight division. He could face 27-year-old countryman Aston Palicte (24-2, 20 KOs), who is No. 2.

"Donnie Nietes will fight for the title soon." Aldeguer said. "We are looking forward to making the biggest fights for Donnie in the next couple of years. He is an epitome of what a great and humble athlete should be. He deserves all the success he has now."

If Nietes faces Palicte for the vacant belt it would be a rare all-Filipino world title fight. There has not been one since then-flyweight world champion Pancho Villa, a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, retained his title by unanimous 15-round decision against countryman Clever Sencio on May 2, 1925 in Manila.

Now there are two on the drawing board: Nietes-Palicte and Ancajas (29-1-1, 20 KOs) taking on mandatory challenger Jonas Sultan (14-3, 9 KOs) in a fight slated for May 26 at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas on an ESPN+ card. Ancajas-Sultan, however, could move to June 9 to the Jeff Horn-Terence Crawford ESPN+ card at the MGM Grand, also in Las Vegas.

To fill the vacant belt Nietes relinquished, former titlist Moruti Mthalane (35-2, 24 KOs), 35, of South Africa, will face Muhammad Waseem (8-0, 6 KOs), 30, a Pakistan native fighting out of South Korea. That fight was initially ordered as a title eliminator to produce Nietes' mandatory challenger but now will be for the vacant title.

According to Pacquiao's MP Promotions, Moruti-Waseem will take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 15 (July 14 in the United States) on the undercard of Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 KOs) challenging to secondary welterweight titlist Lucas Matthysse (39-4, 36 KOs).