The high expectations heaped upon lightweight prospect Mercito Gesta have been both a gift and a curse for the 24-year-old native of Mandaue City, Philippines.
On one hand, Gesta’s exciting string of knockouts and heritage elicited comparisons to Manny Pacquiao, which garnered him the attention that ultimately led to a promotional contract with Top Rank. Yet, after a pair of underwhelming performances that resulted in his first negative criticism, Gesta has found that the increased specter has its cons, too.
As Gesta (25-0, 13 knockouts) prepares to make his debut on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights series this week at the Texas Station Casino in Las Vegas against Ty Barnett (20-2-1, 13 KOs), the southpaw has a prime opportunity to make a statement in his biggest spotlight to date.
“Sometimes I think about that people expect a lot out of me,” admits Gesta, who now resides in San Diego, Calif. “Instead of thinking about the pressure, I’m just going to do my best. I’m just going to show them what I got and I try not to think about the pressure.”
Gesta’s trainer and manager Vincent Parra admits that his fighter could have looked sharper in some recent outings but he expects an impressive performance on Friday.
“He has his moments where he had what people thought were less than stellar performances versus what he had with Manuel Perez and Ricardo Dominguez,” said Parra. “Those were developmental-type fights for him and he dominated both guys but he could’ve done more. There were some things he had to address and focus a little more on like conditioning.
“The bar has always been set high, the more known he gets the more pressure there is. He’s excited for the camera, the audience, the platform of being on ESPN2 for the first time. He’s looking forward to it and the pressure is fueling him.”
Just last year, Gesta’s name was being mentioned as a possible opponent for such high-profile fighters as former WBA lightweight titleholder Brandon Rios and even the legendary Juan Manuel Marquez. Neither fight materialized and now Gesta is back on the trail to improve his stock as he inevitably heads towards his breakout opportunity.
Gesta’s opponent, Barnett, has won two straight bouts (albeit against sub .500 opponents) since losing to Andrey Klimov last year via knockout.
Gesta says he has received extra fuel in camp from the 29-year-old Washington D.C. native’s comments that he was “overrated.”
“I like an opponent that talks like that, it just challenges me and excites me,” said Gesta, who knocked out Oscar Cuero in eight rounds in his last bout in April. “He better do what he says, that’s what I like.”
“He’s a solid, capable opponent but on Friday night he’s going to be in over his head,” Parra said of Barnett. “He’s been cocky and talking crap, he’s gotten under Gesta’s skin a little bit as far as pushing him harder. But Mercito’s relaxed and ready to put on a world class performance.”
Another boost for Gesta’s camp has come in the form of his father, a former MMA fighter named Anecito, joining him in San Diego from their home province of Cebu. Anecito recently opened the C-MAC (Cito’s Martial Arts Club) in San Diego, where his son now trains. The familiar face joining Gesta from back home has boosted his morale, says Gesta, who also hopes to bring his mother over shortly.
“He’s here not just to train me but emotionally, he’s my Dad and it’s a great feeling,” said Gesta. “It motivates me more. It’s great to have my own Dad here.”
Though the once nonstop talk of Gesta facing the top guns at 135 pounds has subsided for the moment, one big performance on national television can quickly rekindle the love affair between a fighter and the public.
“I think he’s capable of fighting the best guys out there,” said Parra. “ESPN is a great platform for him now. A lot of the reason we haven’t gotten those big fights is because they say we’re not marketable enough and our name isn’t known enough. This is part of the process of him becoming known and his name getting out there. These are the kind of guys we need to fight.
“We believe firmly that he is one of the top guys in his division, we just haven’t been able to get that opportunity. But we’ve never turned down an opportunity, either.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.
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