The resurgence in Filipino boxing couldn’t come at a better time, coinciding with ESPN‘s expanded coverage of the sport. Last month, ESPN+ aired an all-Pinoy Super Flyweight title bout between Jerwin Ancajas and Jonas Sultan.
On June 14, Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta (31-2-2, 17 KO) picks up where his countrymen left off, headlining the Golden Boy Boxing on ESPN card against Robert Manzanarez (36-1, 29 KO) at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California.
“We’re here now,” Gesta told Round by Round Boxing. “Everybody is starting to notice. It motivates me knowing that my fellow Filipinos are coming up.”
Gesta was born in Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines, before transplanting to San Diego, California. Early on, his stinging punching power from the southpaw stance was too hard not to draw comparison to superstar Manny Pacquiao.
Almost 15 years as a professional, Gesta has competed for a world title twice, both times at the Lightweight limit of 135 pounds.
The Pinoy puncher grew into his frame after making his professional debut at 16 years old. Then, weighing just 110 pounds.
The Philippines have long been a mainstay in boxing’s little-weights since a handful of Bantamweights and Flyweights found prominence in the American fight scene of the 1920s. The tradition continues today, from Strawweight super prospect Mark Anthony Barriga and Flyweight champion Donnie Nietes to world-ranked Featherweight punchers Mark Magsayo and Genesis Servania.
“We’ve always had good fighters,” said Gesta. “There’s going to be more.”
Gesta is aware of the country’s illustrious fight history, mentioning former Flyweight champion Pancho Villa and the master-southpaw stylist Flash Elorde. Of course, this day and age, with a sport shaped by corporate boundaries and television deals, Pacquiao deserves unique praise.
“Now it’s all about getting a good manager and promoter,” said Gesta. “We didn’t have a chance to until Manny opened the door for all us Filipinos.”
After Pacquiao’s incredible climb up the weight-class ladder, fighting on pay-per-view as high as Junior Middleweight, a Lightweight like Gesta currently finds himself in the limelight.
“Manny put us in great position,” said Gesta. “That gives a lot of fighters confidence. If Manny, a Filipino, could do it, we can too.”
Gesta’s return to the ring will be his first since dropping a decision to Jorge Linares for the WBA Lightweight belt. The Pinoy’s only other defeat was in 2012 to Miguel Vazquez, which was also for a championship gold.
Refusing to sulk over the two losses on his ledger, Gesta learns from them.
“It’s part of the game,” said Gesta. “It’s just a matter of bouncing back. Before Linares, I lost against Vazquez. But I learned some things—it was good experience. So I will train hard and perform better.”
In many ways, Gesta, 30, stands in sharp contrast with his next opponent. Manzanarez is 23 with a three-inch reach advantage. They find common ground, however, in their early exposure to the professional ranks.
In 2003, at the behest of his father (an experienced martial artist himself), Gesta turned professional. And Manzanarez was 15 in 2010 for his first pro fight.
Gesta remembers what it was like being a prodigious talent.
“When you’re young,” said Gesta. “You feel unstoppable—indestructible. You think you know everything.”
Gesta is relying not just on his heavy hands but the mighty hands of time to teach his young opponent a thing or two.
“I’m going to use my experience,” said Gesta. “It won’t be easy. He’s taller and knows how to use his reach. I’ve fought a lot of taller fighters before. I fought Vazquez, who was tall and moves too. I’m prepared for this. I’m ready.”
A boxer’s experience is usually only as valuable as the strategy they can come up with. Fortunately for Gesta, he has Freddie Roach in his corner, who spent 16 years with Pacquiao. Gesta believes Roach and him also have a relationship to pattern after.
“Freddie isn’t just any kind of trainer,” said Gesta. “He’s one of the best. You need to find a trainer that you connect with. I think our chemistry is perfect. My personality and Freddie’s just clicks, not just as a trainer, but also a person.”
Gesta is eager to get it on, urging everybody to tune in. He still has a championship in his sights and lot of people on his mind.
“I fight for my family and my team,” said Gesta. “Especially my dad. He is the one who got me into the gym. He never doubted I could turn pro. That’s the reason why I fight.”
ESPN’s broadcast is scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m. ET.
All photos by Lina Baker/SeeYouRingside Photography