Mercito Gesta Brings “No Mercy” to San Francisco By Ryan Maquiñana, MaxBoxing (Feb 3, 2011) Special to Doghouse Boxing
The Filipino southpaw identifies the crux of his opponent’s attack and employs his swift feet to evade it. With his nemesis now vulnerable, a counter right hook comes all the way from the Pacific Ocean to club its target with precision. The lightning-straight left follows in ruthless succession.
As inevitable as the sun’s daily disappearance over the horizon, the helpless adversary relinquishes his equilibrium and staggers into the ropes, bewildered and facing sure defeat.
Rather than giving you the blow-by-blow for the last Manny Pacquiao extravaganza, I actually described the explosive ending for aptly nicknamed Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta’s second-round stoppage of Ivan Valle last October.
Similarities to Pacquiao abound; make no mistake. The “three stars and sun” national emblem of the Philippines is shaved into Gesta’s head. A flashy tattoo adorns his right shoulder and chest. The 23-year-old lightweight prospect has made it clear that while he’s proud of his roots in Cebu, and as low-key and humble as the “Pac-Man” as can be, the visual eccentricities in Gesta’s personality distinguish him from the world’s most famous Pinoy.
“Manny is the one who opened the doors for Filipino fighters,” said Gesta, 20-0-1 (10). “That’s why the promoters are interested in us now. He’s helped us a lot. But Manny is Manny and I’m different. I look up to what he did but my main thing is about how to make my own name in boxing, like to be a world champion.”
As much as he appreciates Pacquiao’s trailblazing efforts, Gesta is content to be his own man and he gets another chance to build on his own legacy in a rematch against Genaro Trazancos, 22-13-1 (13), on Feb. 18 in San Francisco’s Longshoremen’s Hall. The eight-round attraction will be televised on Telefutura’s “Sólo Boxeo Tecate” and is promoted by Golden Boy, Don Chargin, and Paco Presents.
“Mercito’s a southpaw and he’s a vicious body puncher,” added Chargin. “He’s really starting to find his punching power and he’s fun to watch.”
Right down to the correct pronunciation of his last name (HES-tah), the undefeated prospect’s Q-rating has bordered on the obscure. Aside from the hardcore aficionados who have kept vigilant watch over his progress, fight fans are only beginning to familiarize themselves with his exciting style.
“For me, I try to observe my opponent and see the best way to beat them,” said Gesta. “I don’t like fighting just one style because the opponent will be able to study me. I kind of like the right hook. It works for me. With Valle, I dropped him with that counter right hook. Sometimes it’s actually stronger than my left.”
Gesta’s story begins in his hometown of Mandaue City in the province of Cebu, where his father introduced him to every combat sport but boxing.
“My dad, Anecito, was a professional Muay Thai and MMA fighter in the Philippines but he used to box amateurs when he was a kid,” recalled Gesta. “I trained in Muay Thai at first but I saw that boxing pays more and it’s more popular. I was 15 and I went to a gym in Liloan, Cebu, to train and I did well, so my dad let me box.”
A lot of fighters put their dominant hand in front of their stance. Oscar De La Hoya may have written with his left hand but was converted from southpaw to orthodox to maximize the ability of his vaunted left hook. Gesta was no exception to change.
“My dad said I should be a southpaw because there aren’t that many southpaws out there,” the younger Gesta explained. “I’m a natural right-hander and my right hand is sometimes stronger than my left but it’s worked so far.”
Without the memory bank of an amateur career to fall back upon, Gesta turned pro only one week after his 16th birthday and outpointed Edwin Picardal in Taguig City.
“As soon as I hit 16, I had my first pro fight. I didn’t have any amateur boxing experience but I had a great coach in Coach Carl and he helped me learn fast.”
He was a quick study, going 9-0-1 over the next two years under the tutelage of Carlos Peñalosa, brother of former two-weight world champion Gerry Peñalosa.
By then, Manny-Mania had overtaken America and the sudden demand for Filipino fighters from the Pacific Rim had spiked to record levels. In recent times, Mandaue City has produced elite fighters like former WBC light flyweight king Rodel Mayol and retired super flyweight contender Z Gorres.
With Top Rank scouring the Asian archipelago for the next Pacquiao, they discovered Gesta and gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“When I was 19,” he said, “Top Rank offered me to fight on the Pacquiao undercard with [Erik] Morales.”
Unfortunately, the Pacquiao-Morales III lineup was filled to capacity and Gesta never got the opportunity to flash his wares on the biggest stage that his most celebrated countryman could offer. However, don’t expect the Filipino to complain about it. If you ask him, it was the best broken promise of his life.
“I ended up not fighting that time and I trained until I got a fight [eventually] but I didn’t sign with anyone. Then I ended up in L.A. to train. After that, I moved to Las Vegas but then Coach Carl got offered to work at Alliance Gym in [Chula Vista near] San Diego, so I followed him.”
The new surroundings initially made Gesta feel like a fish out of water but he acclimated himself to the environment and realized it was closer to home than he imagined.
“I love it here now,” says the current resident of San Diego. “It’s not crowded. The weather’s nice and it’s peaceful, so I wanted to stay. It was kind of hard to adapt at first because I didn’t have that much friends but when I started fighting and people started knowing me, I met people who spoke [the Filipino dialect] Bisaya and with the large Filipino population here, they started to support me.”
Still, Gesta’s family lived over 7,000 miles away with an ocean between them; thanks to modern technology, he doesn’t have to go too far to chat with Mom and Dad.
“I still keep in touch with them through Skype, so I can see them and talk to them everyday online,” he shared. “I’m not homesick that much anymore. Actually, I just got here a week ago because I went to the Philippines for two months’ vacation after the Valle fight.”
Upon his return stateside, he realized that there was one thing he did miss.
“I wish they had the barbecue chicken on a stick they sell on the side of the street in the Philippines,” Gesta slightly lamented. “Here in San Diego, they have Filipino restaurants but the only thing they don’t have is the barbecue. If I get enough money one day, maybe I’ll open a place here. But I like it here.”
Another stabilizing force in his life abroad has been co-manager/trainer Vince Parra. Right when Gesta was afforded his biggest break to date last June in the form of a shot at the vacant NABO youth lightweight title, Peñalosa returned to the Philippines to take care of a multitude of personal duties.
As a result, Gesta was faced with the prospect of following his coach home or accepting the challenge with a new chief second. Enter Parra, who trains at the Alliance Gym and is known for his work with former WBO bantamweight champ Cruz Carvajal.
“When I first took over, Mercito didn’t want me to be his trainer because he and Carl were very tight from the Philippines,” remembered Parra. “He was skeptical at first, especially because I was American, and other issues, so I had to get him to trust what I was telling him. I told him, ‘Just trust me this one time.’”
Gesta placed his faith in Parra and would not be disappointed; starting with a fourth-round technical knockout of Meza, the 135-pounder has scored three consecutive stoppages with his new head cornerman, including the one of Trazancos and the aforementioned victory over Valle.
“We took the fight with Oscar Meza and I won’t even mention the money,” chuckled Parra. “Maybe one day we’ll laugh at it. We came up with the plan. The kid’s got the tools. He’s a very smart guy who studies his opponent. It worked out great and we went from there.
“With Trazancos, we carried him for five rounds so he could get some work and then that was it,” analyzed Parra. “With Valle, he saw an opening; we told him to take it and now he’s realizing how good he can be. It says a lot about a kid who was thinking about going home.”
As the new pairing rises to the top, they are fully cognizant of the sacrifices and struggles they have endured to this point.
“Me and him have been on this road together and he has a great team behind him,” said Parra. “Joel Coombs owns the Alliance Gym and co-manages him with me. [MMA fighter] Brandon Vera also owns part of the gym and offers his support. We also signed with Don Chargin as a promoter.
“We keep a very small circle but Mercito likes it that way. In fact, there have been some camps where we’ve had to scrounge enough money to pay for food. There have been times where we’ve had to go check-to-check to keep this thing going. Maybe it’s good because he has to cut weight.”
Jokes aside, Team Gesta was able to put together the sufficient funds to train at Hollywood’s Wild Card Gym for this camp and if you ask them, they’ve made quite an ally in Pacquiao’s pugilistic professor, four-time BWAA “Trainer of the Year” Freddie Roach.
“Freddie told me, ‘You really got something with this kid,’ which is really high praise coming from Freddie,” said Chargin. “They’ll be boxing there every day until they get to San Francisco.”
“Freddie always gives me input,” shared Parra. “He sets up our sparring and it always helps because he trains the best Filipino left-hander on the planet. Yesterday, Mercito logged six rounds with Ray Beltran and Jamie Kavanagh. I’d like him to get work with bigger guys. I’d like to see him in there with Rashad Holloway and Paulie Malignaggi by the end of camp. He’s getting so strong that he can bring the fight to the bigger guys now. I’m telling you that I think he’s ready for any 135-pounder, even a fight with someone like Brandon Rios.”
Of course, if anyone loves a good brawl, it’s the Mexican fan base. Ironically, the executives at Telefutura have liked what they’ve seen out of the Filipino enough to bring him back to “Sólo Boxeo Tecate” a third straight time (with the Meza fight coming on rival network Telemundo).
“I told the people at Telefutura that I’ve got this Filipino fighter and you’re going to like him, even though he’ll be knocking out Mexican fighters,” Chargin said, laughing. “If a fighter’s got ability, no matter what he is, you’ll be a fan and, sure enough, they were after the first fight. So when I proposed San Francisco this time around, they wondered who I’d put on the card. When I said Mercito, they gave the OK.”
Currently ranked number 12 by the WBO, Gesta’s camp pushed for former Pacquiao adversary and world title challenger Hector Velazquez. However, after Velazquez was no longer an option, Trazancoswhom Gesta stopped in seven rounds last Augustwas more than happy for the opportunity to avenge his defeat.
While a win over Velazquez would have undoubtedly elevated Gesta’s standing a peg from prospect to the cusp of contention, a second victory over Trazancos will offer a checkpoint of sorts as far as measuring his progress over the last six months.
“I’ll tell you why I made this fight,” said Chargin. “Trazancos was a guy he fought before and stopped in seven rounds but the guy gave Mercito fits. I want to see how much he’s improved. That is the way I develop fighters. I want to see for myself the improvements.”
It’s no secret why Chargin chose Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco as the venue to showcase Gesta’s talents. The Hall of Fame promoter known for his “War-a-Week” shows got his start in the Bay Area and is well aware of the heavy helping of Filipino fight fans in Northern California.
“I told John Chavez, who’s been helping me, to start looking around for spots and I saw the reaction Pacquiao got when he was in San Francisco. Then John’s girlfriend told me about Daly City, which has a really big Filipino population.”
In fact, the last time a Pinoy star graced the “City by the Bay,” an upstart IBF super bantamweight champion named Manny Pacquiao battled the late WBO titleholder Agapito Sanchez in a unification foulfest that resulted in a technical draw at the Bill Graham Civic Center in 2001. Chargin regaled me with a brief anecdote to illustrate how times have changed.
“Back in the days, I used to promote around Stockton [near Sacramento] and every time we had a Filipino fighter, it would sell out almost every time,” he said. “But what I would say we were kind of guilty of doing was that we were using the Filipino fighters as mainly opponents and we were favoring the Mexican fighters. So naturally, Filipinos are as nationalistic as anybody and the old-timers now got soured on boxing because the Filipinos got beat.”
Having learned his lesson, Chargin flipped the script soon after with the help of the greatest fighter of all from Cebu.
“I revived it somewhat when I used [Hall of Famer] Flash Elorde because Elorde didn’t get beat,” said Chargin. “He fought Davey Gallardo and Sandy Saddler here in the Bay Area and I had [promoted] part of those shows. The Filipinos came as far as L.A. up to San Francisco to see him fight. They knew they weren’t going in just to see an opponent and now we have a Filipino kid like Mercito headlining today.”
Regardless of the mounting pressure to excel in a nationally-televised springboard for his career, Gesta feels that his concentration remains as strong as the sledgehammer he swings across his shoulders to smash tires for strength training.
“I don’t really feel pressure,” he calmly stated. “My dad told me that, whatever I do, love what you’re doing because if you don’t, it’s useless. I love what I’m doing and it makes focusing on it a lot easier. All I want to do right now is train hard and show I can give a better performance. If I keep winning, the promoters will still want me and I will make boxing fans and all the Filipinos proud.”
Parra was a little bolder with his assessment of the situation.
“We’re going to focus on February 18th and we’re going to focus on dominating,” promised the trainer. “I tell Mercito, ‘Your performances will dictate what they think about you.’ You can have great amateur experience but sometimes you just know how to fight. He’s turning into a man and it’s impressive to see him grow up. Our time’s coming and Mercito can taste it.”
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Speaking of Filipino fighters, mere hours before the WBC/WBO light welterweight clash between Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander last Saturday, I met with THE RING’s number five pound-for-pounder Nonito Donaire, who is knee-deep in preparations for his HBO-televised bantamweight showdown with WBC/WBO champ Fernando Montiel on Feb. 19.
With chief second Robert Garcia in Oxnard for the weekend to work with Brandon Rios among others, Donaire worked the pads with trainer Jonathan Peñalosa (brother of Carlos and Gerry) in a closed workout session at the Undisputed Gym in San Carlos, Calif.
In between rounds, the former IBF flyweight and WBA interim super flyweight world titlist offered his two cents on the bout between Alexander and Bradley, with the latter a close friend with whom he shares the same manager, Cameron Dunkin.
“The story of this fight is going to be if Bradley can land his overhand right,” opined Donaire, who got in an orthodox stance to emulate the Palm Springs pugilist. “The reason is because then he can bend at the knees and use his lack of height to his advantage. He’ll follow up the right with a left hook to the body downstairs and do work.”
He then flipped the coin, switching back to southpaw to perform his best impression of Devon. “If not, then Alexander’s got a lot of skills. He’ll be able to fight tall and use his reach and jab to score. If Alexander can get his distance down, he’ll be in control instead.”
Based on how the 5’6” Bradley juked and crouched his way toward racking up rounds against the 5’8’’ Alexander, I would venture to say that Nonito was right. Seems like the “Filipino Flash” has a future in the broadcast booth once his career comes to a close.
I scored the fight 97-93 for Bradley. While the first, second, third, and well, fourth headbutts changed the complexion of the fight, according to Alexander, it was evident that referee Frank Garza was not going to penalize Bradley.
Alexander was going to have to turn lemons into lemonade; with that said, if we were to strictly look at the CompuBox numbers, the edge would go to the St. Louis southpaw.
Unfortunately for Alexander, all punches are not created equal in the boxing world. His volume was offset and exceeded by the impact of Bradley’s blows, which were more telling throughout the nine rounds and change.
Longtime HBO ringside announcer Jim Lampley bemoaned that the fateful clash of heads in the tenth was “the worst case scenario for a fight of this stature.”
I agree fully. Bradley versus Amir Khan for all the marbles at 140 pounds makes all the sense in the world, despite last weekend’s lackluster action and controversial (yet decisive) conclusion. I just hope the executives at Home Box Office weren’t discouraged by their investment last Saturday because in reality, it was just one subpar fight. After a bunch of predictable clunkers in recent years, this matchup was actually the right one.
So is Montiel-Donaire. It all becomes a matter of how well HBO promotes the bout and makes the fighters visible to the mainstream crowd. Thomas Hauser’s recent masterpiece on this site about how the network lost the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley bout offered an interesting point.
If Showtime can purportedly use CBS as a vehicle to advertise the fight, then why can’t HBO do the same thing with Turner Sports? A “Road to Vegas” special featuring the two bantamweights before or after an NBA on TNT regular season game would add a new element of exposure to the mix, especially since premium cable subscribers don’t exactly reflect the demographic of the average American household.
Rome never quite recovered from its initial fall from grace; that doesn’t mean “The Heart and Soul of Boxing” can’t.
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On Friday, Feb. 18, Golden Boy Promotions in association with Don Chargin Productions and Cerveza Tecate present “War at the Wharf” at Longshoremen’s Hall in San Francisco. Featured on the card are Filipino lightweight sensation Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta, super featherweight contender Eloy “The Prince” Perez of Salinas, San Francisco welterweight Karim “Hard Hitta” Mayfield and the debut of Joe “The Punisher” Gumina. Prices are $50 for general admission, $80 for floor seats, and $125 ringside. You can purchase tickets at http://theboxingtruth.vbotickets.com. First bout is 7 PM, and the Telefutura “Sólo Boxeo Tecate” broadcast begins at 11 PM ET/11 PM PT (on tape delay).