It has been almost six years to the day since Mercito Gesta, all warmed up and ready to go, was given the red light in the dressing room.
His swing bout on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao’s third battle with Erik Morales at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas wouldn’t go on. There wouldn’t be enough time, event organizers told Gesta, leaving all of his training and preparation for naught.
Now 25, Gesta will get a second chance to fight on a Pacquiao undercard on Dec. 8 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, as his Filipino compatriot faces arch rival Juan Manuel Marquez for a fourth time in a non-title bout. This time, Gesta won’t have to worry about being bumped off at the last minute; his fight will be the televised co-feature as he faces IBF lightweight titleholder Miguel Vazquez in his first world title opportunity.
For Gesta, who lived in Pacquiao’s La Palazzo apartment in Los Angeles when he first came to America from Mandaue City, Philippines, the opportunity to be on the sport’s biggest stage is one he’s been waiting his whole life for.
“To get here from where I’m from, it’s been a lot of sacrifices, a lot of work,” said Gesta (26-0-1, 14 knockouts), who now lives in San Diego. Gesta will be the first Filipino to fight for a world title on a Pacquiao undercard since Brian Viloria knocked out Eric Ortiz in one round to win the WBC junior flyweight title on the Pacquiao-Hector Velasquez card in 2005 that preceded the second Morales clash.
For the past month, Gesta has been training for the first time at high elevation in Big Bear, Calif. Big Bear, which became popular as the headquarter training grounds of Oscar de la Hoya and Shane Mosley in the 1990s, has been frequented by Miguel Cotto and WBA middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin in recent months.
The air is thin up there at around 7,000 feet above sea level, which Gesta hopes will improve his stamina in what might be his first time going the 12-round distance. There are also fewer distractions in Big Bear than back in San Diego, just his trainer/manager Vincent Parra, his sparring partners and his family, which includes his father Anecito, mother Mercy and older brother Dondon.
Gesta’s mother has been helping him by preparing his vegetable juice from a juicing machine, but he hopes to eat some of her home-cooked meals afterwards.
“It really helps my peace of mind, and I just feel like I’m at home,” said Gesta of having his family with him. “I don’t have to worry about what’s going on there with them in the Philippines, because I know what’s going on.”
Parra, who has trained Gesta for nine fights of which seven have ended in knockout, has been confidently devising a plan to deal with the awkward, mobile Vazquez (32-3, 13 KOs), of Guadalajara, Mexico. Vazquez has never been stopped and his only defeats have come to current WBC junior middleweight titleholder Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (twice) and WBO welterweight titleholder Timothy Bradley.
“We wanted Vazquez because nobody wanted him,” said Parra. “We wanted people to know why we feel Gesta is the best 135 pounder out there. Gesta is responding to this challenge and Big Bear as I’d hoped for. I would not want to be in Miguel Vazquez’s boots on Dec. 8.”
In Vazquez’s last fight a month ago – his HBO debut where he won a split decision over Marvin Quintero – Vazquez showed the world his frustrating style of flurrying, then moving before his opponents can retaliate. That fight isn’t likely to have won Vazquez many fans, but it kept him busy against a southpaw, which is also Gesta’s stance.
“In his last fight, he looks kinda boring because there’s no action there,” said Gesta. “But if you really look at it, he’s trying to be cautious in that fight and win on points. His face, he’s all clean, and it seems like it’s easy for him and he’s not trying hard, he just wants to win it by points, waiting for this, for ‘the big one.’ So it’s obvious that he’s making more for this fight but he’s gonna be against me.”
When asked how he’d deal with Vazquez’s constant movement, Gesta said “I’ll wait for him to get in and make a mistake and counter him. If I keep chasing him, he’ll just keep running. He’s trying to play his game, and if I do that, I’ll mess up with it. If he wants to run, I’ll let him run.
“I’m not gonna chase him for all the rounds. Of course I’ll chase him a little but I’m not gonna do the same thing as the last guy Quintero, he kept chasing him. I’ll stand in the middle of the ring and eventually he’ll give in and when he gives in, that’ll be our opportunity. When he comes in, that’s when he’s open.”
Parra is hoping that they are able to make a statement with this spotlight, and reign in some of the ethnic fan support that Pacquiao has for the moment. Pacquiao gained much of his popularity by knocking out durable Mexicans, and Gesta is up against a durable Mexican of his own.
“He’s matured and along the way we’ve worked on strength and sitting down on punches,” said Parra. “Knockouts sell tickets and gain fans.”
Still, Parra says they aren’t selling out entirely on the knockout.
“We’re training to win every round,” said Parra. “If we hurt him, we’ll go for the finish. We’re looking to earn that belt and another date on HBO.”
There is one more member of the Gesta clan who isn’t in Big Bear. Gesta’s sister is in Miami with her family, but the clan has plans to visit after the fight. The last time Mercito was in Florida, airport security stopped him, curious as to what heavy metallic object was in his luggage. It turned out to be the WBO’s regional NABO belt, which he had won that night. It isn’t often that a boxing title belt comes through security, and it caused a holdup in the line as nearly everyone nearby wanted to take a photo with it.
This is a scene that Gesta hopes to recreate in Florida on his next visit, only with a world championship in tow.
Photos / Chris Farina-Top Rank
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 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.