Test for Nietes, Pagaras in US

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - September 6, 2015 - 10:00am

Yesterday, Jason Pagara, Albert Pagara and Mark Magsayo left for California, their first-ever trip to the United States. In a week and a half, they will be joined by WBO champion Donnie Nietes, who is preparing for a 12th title defense in Pinoy Pride 33, the first on American soil. For the three young fighters, this is several dreams come true wrapped in one. They are in the United States for the first time, they are fighting in front of a predominantly Filipino crowd, and they will be broadcast internationally, on the undercard of a world title bout, no less. It couldn’t get sweeter than that.

Jason Pagara, who has outgrown the moniker “El Niño” simply because of his size and stature, is ranked number two in the world, and is building up towards a world title shot. He is fresh off an eighth-round technical decision win over Ramior Alcaraz in their superlightweight clash at the World Trade Center in Dubai exactly a month ago. Pagara was leading all the way, but admitted having trouble pinning down the slippery opponent.

“It’s hard to hit someone who keeps running like Mayweather,” Pagara quipped. “It was throwing my timing off. So I had to wait until I could see where he was open. I was just happy for the win with so many of our countrymen watching.”

“Prince” Albert, who, like his brother, is fighting a still undisclosed opponent at the StubHub Center in Carson on Oct. 17, came away with an even more spectacular victory in Dubai. Albert flattened a game but overweight Jesus Rios in under a minute and a half. The younger Pagara, whose habit of smiling when getting hit in the face has unnerved many an opponent, wanted to make a statement in his first foray overseas. Over and over, he has said he doesn’t care who he fights in the ring, as long as he wins. Or learns. Or both.

“The rings are all the same,” says the blonde IBF inter-continental super bantamweight champion. “So for me, it doesn’t matter who you put in the ring with me, I came to fight.”

For Nietes, this is the third time he will be fighting this year, something he has not done since 2007. In his last two wins, he won a unanimous decision against Francisco Rodriguez Jr. in Cebu, and defeated Gilberto Parra in nine rounds. The WBO super flyweight champion knocked the Mexican challenger down in the eighth round, and opened up a serious cut in the ninth to cause referee Jack Reiss to stop the fight. This is the first time Ahas is fighting in the US, as well, after becoming the first Filipino world champion to make three successful defenses in Mexico. Nietes is fighting against time at age 33. The humble, soft-spoken king of the ring has been a pro for 13 years, and this year, eclipsed the record of Flash Elorde as longest-reigning Filipino world boxing champion.

One thing that has changed dramatically for ALA Promotions fighters is the training regimen, which has become much more intense under strength and conditioning coach Nick Curson, to whom Nietes’ most recent victories have been attributed. Curson has brought along a more systematic, updated approach to preparing for a fight. In the past, a couple of ALA boxers have gotten into the ring and burned out after having peaked too early. That is no longer the case with Curson keeping watch.

“From the time I came along to now, the training has become more intense,” Jason Pagara confirmed. “It’s much more comprehensive now, and we really feel the difference. I feel much stronger now.”

One thing has not changed, though, and that is the strict code of discipline imposed by Tony Aldeguer himself, regardless of the stature.

“When I was first starting, there were times I would not obey the rules,” Albert Pagara laughs. “Not only would you get punished right away, but you would pay for it in training the next day. But I don’t break the rules anymore.”

The brothers also confirmed the story about one time when  Nietes, then already world champion, arrived at the gym past the 8 p.m. curfew, and was not allowed in by the security guard. He phoned Aldeguer asking to be let in, and was promptly told that, it didn’t matter what he had attained, rules were rules, and he could sleep anywhere else he wanted for the night. On that occasion, Nietes passed the night under a bridge. Chastened, it never happened again.

There have been other treats for the Pagaras, as well. They have been able to spar with five-time champion Nonito Donaire Jr. As well as Nietes. In California, they will be training at the Wild Card Gym. They will also get to see Nietes spar against the comebacking Brian Viloria, who will be fighting in New York mere hours after they themselves see action on the West Coast.

All these signs of growth and opportunity are the fruits of many years of preparation by Tony and Michael Aldeguer, and the proof that they have become the most professional boxing promoters in this part of the world.

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