Eventually, the Filipino star-in-waiting would get the hang of speaking in front of an audience before making way for WBA lightweight champ Brandon Rios and Urbano Antillon, the headliners for this Saturday’s Showtime main event at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. For now, Gesta is willing to concede the spotlight as he works toward getting his own name on the backdrop one day.
“I need to prove to Top Rank and everyone that I don’t care whoever they give me to fight; let’s sign the contract and do it,” he said as he looks forward to a showcase off-TV bout against Jorge Pimentel, 23-11 (17).
Gesta, an offensively-gifted southpaw from Mandaue City in the province of Cebu, arrived in America four years ago with a pack of his countrymen after the rise of Manny Pacquiao had North American promoters scrambling to scour the Pacific Rim for talent. In fact, the fighter now known as “No Mercy” was almost at mercy of the system.
Ironically enough, Top Rank had the first shot at Gesta but according to current manager Vince Parra, decided to pass on him based on an unfavorable report from Pacquiao adviser Michael Koncz. Then after signing with Don Chargin and getting his stateside career on track, Gesta’s trainer at the time, Carlos Peñalosa, returned to the Philippines last June. The abrupt move left the fighter pondering whether he should just give up on his American Dream altogether and follow his coach back home.
Spurning a flight to Manila, Gesta took a gamble and put his career in the hands of Parra, who also doubles as his trainer. Today, you can find Mercito in Southern California, bouncing between his present home of San Diego and Hollywood, where he spends the bulk of his training camps at the Wild Card Gym.
The past month has especially been momentous. After easily dispatching Genaro Trazancos for the second time in February (his third televised fight on Telefutura and fourth consecutive televised bout overall), Gesta’s contract with Chargin expired two months later.
At this point, “Citing” (the Tagalog diminutive of Mercito, pronounced see-ting) became the subject of a bidding war between Chargin, Golden Boy and Top Rank.
“Mike Marley had been a friend for a long time and he showed up in San Francisco because he always liked Mercito,” said Chargin, the Hall-of-Famer, who is also a consultant for Golden Boy. “At that time, I was going to work a deal with Golden Boy where I would still retain half and approve all his matches. At the time, they were all for that, and then Golden Boy’s attorney was drawing up the papers but he was taking too long when the contract ran out in April.
“All of a sudden, Parra is talking about his legal counsel, which was Mike Marley. This was none of his business. Now all of a sudden, Mercito is with Top Rank. What was this stuff where they had to meet first and sit down with Oscar [De La Hoya] or Richard [Schaefer]? That wasn’t necessary. Richard wasn’t even aware that he had to talk to him from what I know.”
Parra replied with his side of the story.
“All respect to Don, who’s built a lot of fighters, but we gave Golden Boy the first shot to sign us,” said Gesta’s manager/trainer. “We did bring Mike [Marley] on as our legal counsel and he actually put us in contact with Richard Schaefer over the phone first before we even thought about Top Rank.”
So according to Parra, where did the discord stem from?
“Richard said he’d call us within a week but he never did. That’s when we got in contact with Top Rank and Bob [Arum] brought us to his house in Beverly Hills to talk about the direction of Mercito’s career. Everything was easy and it didn’t take two weeks to finish the details of the contract.”
Marley was available for comment and wanted to chime in with his take on the matter.
“What Vince said is correct…Now look, Don and I were friends. I wish we were,” said the longtime attorney and boxing writer. “Evidently, we’re not even though I have the utmost respect for Don and his late wife. I work as a boxing writer but my main occupation is an attorney. This was just business and nothing more than business.
“All decisions were made by two people. One’s named Vincent Parra and the second and most important is the guy who walks up the steps and does the punching...and that’s the way it has to be…I was working for them. They don’t work for me.”
Well, what does the kid think?
“At first, we thought about going back to Golden Boy but Top Rank just had the better deal and better approach,” said Gesta, with this particular response translated from Tagalog. “I’m so excited that they promised me if I win this one and I do good, that maybe I’ll get a title fight.”
Arum, a Hall-of-Famer as well, sees many of the same attributes that Chargin, one of the best boxing minds in the history of the sport, sees in the southpaw.
“The Filipinos have seen him and he’s a terrific fighter,” Arum told BoxingScene’s Lem Satterfield last week. “He fights like Manny Pacquiao and he’s a southpaw. You know, I’m not saying he is Manny Pacquiao, obviously, but he fights like Manny Pacquiao.”
“It’s a compliment,” added Gesta, when asked about the Pacquiao comparisons for what must seem like the 2,389th time. “Really, I think Manny’s the best but I have to keep reminding these people that I’m Mercito Gesta. I want to be an original.”
Making the jump from contender to elite requires testing the scope of one’s capabilities and Gesta has been able to do that by sparring one of the Wild Card’s best, WBA light welterweight champion Amir Khan. The Englishman needed a speedy southpaw to prepare him for IBF champ Zab Judah and Gesta was more than happy to volunteer his services.
“It’s been great learning a lot from Amir,” said Gesta. “He’s a world champion. His speed and technique is really good and he’s able to adapt to any style of opponent, something that I’m working on. He’s so fast getting in and out but I’ve been getting better at timing him when he engages.”
“We had to take time off before the camp because of the contract issue but for this camp, we’ve been focusing on him getting his conditioning and timing down. Freddie [Roach] has been great with helping Mercito get some pad work in and the sparring with Amir has been phenomenal, as far as getting him tuned up for the fight.”
With Oscar Meza being the biggest name on his résumé so far, Gesta still seems relatively untested. Of course, he’s still a work in progress as evidenced by the choice of opponent. Pimentel is a late replacement for former world title challenger Francisco Lorenzo, who had visa issues and could not make the trip from the Dominican Republic.
A former Mexican light welterweight champion, Pimentel had won nine bouts in a row before the brawler succumbed in successive stoppages in his last two. Neither of those fighters is held in as high regard as Gesta, which leads this writer to conclude that “No Mercy” should win and win impressively on a tailor-made stage combining Showtime execs and a Southern California crowd full of Filipinos and Mexicans eager to put their dollars behind the next big thing.
“It’s part of my career,” Gesta said, addressing the heightened expectations. “Sometimes I feel the pressure but I don’t think about that. I’m going to just focus and fight. I talk to my family back home, especially my father (Anecito, a former amateur boxer and Muay Thai fighter), and we both feel that I’ve been blessed that this has happened to me. Hopefully, my fans will see how thankful I am with the way I fight if my followers are Filipino, Mexican, or whoever.”
This situation is what this fighter has asked for and while Jorge Pimentel isn’t quite the pressure-cooker that either main event fighter would unequivocally be, the environment will serve as a nice introduction of what awaits the hungry Gesta when Top Rank decides to step him up in class, which the fighter has intimated could come as early as the end of 2011.
Sure enough, a quick scan of the WBO lightweight rankings shows a serendipitous turn of events. Since rising to the number two spot, both regular champion Juan Manuel Marquez and interim champion Robert Guerrero have packed their bags north for the 140-pound weight class, leaving only Uzbekistan’s Alisher Raimov and a game of musical chairs in pursuing a vacant title.
By signing Mercito Gesta, Top Rank has invested in futures but the Filipino feels he’s closer to a finished product than most prognosticators would project.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” he said. “They say I haven’t fought anyone yet but I want to fight them. I signed with Top Rank because they have the best lightweights and I’ve been calling out names like Brandon Rios but what can I do if they won’t fight me? I just have to keep proving myself and I will do that in this fight.”