This past Saturday night, unbeaten lightweight sensation Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta (22-0-1, 12KOs) threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the San Diego Padres-Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball game at Petco Park in downtown San Diego. Gesta of San Diego via Cebu, Philippines, was there as a special guest to celebrate Filipino Heritage night at the ballpark, an event done every year. A couple of years ago before his match up with Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto, the honor fell on none other than Filipino Congressman and pound for pound #1 fighter Manny Pacquiao. Now as Gesta, who signed on with the world’s best promoter Top Rank some months ago, is set to someday take the mantle as the premier Filipino fighter in the not so distant future, it is ironic that the first step to him reaching these heights was taken six months before Pacquiao threw that first pitch in ’09. Gesta made his San Diego debut a mere block away from Petco Park at the Hard Rock Hotel.
The funny thing is, I was the matchmaker of that fight…
On paper, the official matchmaker was my good friend Vince Parra while I was helping with publicity. The company was Rogue Boxing Promotions, a brand new company that was trying to make a dent on the San Diego boxing scene. We decided to feature at that time the quiet Filipino in the main event knowing that the tight knit Pinoy community in San Diego would make a great showing and help the ticket sales. Parra did a great job the night featuring a lot of great talent including featherweight Ronny Rios, lightweight Carlos Molina, San Diego veteran super flyweight Sergio Espinoza and the fight of the night between El Paso, TX’s Abie Han and Ibahiem King which Han took in an awesome middleweight six rounder.
Leading up to that cool May night, promoter Derek Pierce, Parra and I were trying to figure out who would be a great match up for Gesta who we didn’t really know. Parra had some experience before when Gesta sparred a fighter that Parra and his father, Bumpy Parra, worked with, former WBO bantamweight champion Cruz Carvajal. We decided we needed a rugged and tough Mexican to go along with the Philippines vs. Mexico story line and also somebody that would last against Gesta so that the night would not end too soon. Also, we needed to find somebody that was cost effective since the promotion was a small one with hardly any sponsorship, not even a beer company. The obstacle was Gesta’s undefeated record and the fact that he was a virtual unknown so any potential opponent had little if anything to go on to judge Gesta’s style and above all that, a southpaw to boot.
After all of us put out some feelers, there weren’t any takers knocking down our door to be part of the main event. I then thought of a fight card I had attended some weeks before in Rosarito where the tough Alain “Konan” Hernandez had won a hard fought six round split decision over a Juan Velasquez in which both fighters hit each other with everything but the kitchen sink. Back then Hernandez was 14-6-2, 7KOs.
In what Hernandez lacked in skill, he made up with a relentless come forward resolve. By that time I had seen him fight a number of times since he was a staple of Tijuana fight cards were he was somewhat of a crowd favorite for his ruggedness and willingness to trade leather. Somewhat protected by his brother Edmundo, Hernandez began boxing late and in ’09 he was thirty years of age to Gesta’s twenty-one. It only helped that Hernandez only some weeks prior had been named Tijuana’s Prospect of the Year by the Tijuana commission which helped with the story line.
I am not going to lie and say here, two years later, that I knew that Gesta was going to do quick work of Hernandez. I honestly thought that “Konan” had a granite chin, good condition and enough heart to take Gesta to the sixth or seventh round of the scheduled eight round lightweight fight. My problem was that even though I had seen plenty of Hernandez, I had hardly seen any of Gesta. The closest I had seen Gesta fight prior to the “Havoc at the Hard Rock” fight card was when I visited him at this gym to take promo pictures and video and he hit the heavy bag, speed bag and shadow boxed for me for about thirty minutes.
Once we had decided on the opponent, it was my job since I suggested him and lived in Tijuana, to make contact with his camp and see if they would take the fight. After some back and forth with Edmundo Hernandez via email, we came to an agreement and the match up was made.
Like they say, everything after that is history as Gesta easily destroyed Hernandez seconds into the first round. The southpaw Gesta rushed Hernandez from the opening bell and after landing a hard straight left to the chin of Hernandez, “Konan” reeled back into the ropes and was never able to respond since referee Pat Russell moved in and stopped the contest. I truly believed then as I do now that it was premature. Would Gesta win anyways? Yes, I believe so and by knock out but Hernandez was never given the chance to even punch back and he furiously argued against the stoppage.
What many don’t know is that we, the promotion, were under pressure to end the fight card since curfew was almost upon us and the night needed to end to comply with the downtown San Diego noise laws. I don’t think that takes away from Gesta’s performance since the night would have ended the same way but fifteen minutes later.
Since then, Gesta has gone on to bigger and better things, capturing the WBO NABO youth lightweight title, appearing on Telefutura a number of times and as previously stated, signing with mega promoter Top Rank. He fights next in mid-September on Fox Sports Net.
As far as the always polite and unassuming Hernandez, who doubles as a physical education instructor for a Tijuana high school, he went back to fighting unknowns in Tijuana to bulk up his record until he faced Paul Spadafora late last year and was stopped in five rounds. No word if he would continue his career but it seems unlikely since he had never taken such long of a hiatus and now holds a record of 18-9-2, 10KOs.
Vince Parra is now the trainer and co-manager of Gesta. Parra has really come into his own as a trainer but more importantly as the man who has always believed in Gesta and his ceiling as a fighter which is high. Parra has been instrumental if not the actual instrument in taking Gesta from a virtual unknown undefeated fighter, training away from the bright lights of any boxing hotbed to being on the vestibule of a world title opportunity by the end of this year or the opening of next.
My career as a matchmaker was a short one, one fight and truth be told, it wasn’t all that exciting. It didn’t pan out as the war I thought it would be with Hernandez pressuring the Filipino southpaw for all the eight rounds as I envisioned.
I guess I’ll stick to writing about the fights and not trying to make them….