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Mercito Gesta returns, with another world title shot potentially closer than you might think

Gesta has lost in two world title fights, but in today’s boxing landscape, a fighter like him is maybe more valuable than ever.

Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Lightweight Mercito Gesta has already challenged for a world title on two occasions, and both times, if we’re being honest, he was outclassed. In 2012, it was Miguel Vazquez widely outpointing him. Six years later, it was Jorge Linares, with the story of the fights more or less the same.

Gesta (32-2-2, 17 KO) returns to action on Thursday, when he headlines the first edition of Golden Boy DAZN Thursday Night Fights — and to make it clear again, no, the fights are not streaming on DAZN, which does make the title confusing. In time, they’ll probably come to regional cable affiliates, but for now the fights will stream via YouTube.

Gesta has been around for quite a while now. Starting his pro career in his native Philippines in 2003 just a week after his 16th birthday, he’s got a full 15 years in the paid ranks of boxing. In 2007, he made his U.S. debut on a Top Rank card in suburban Chicago. At the time, Top Rank was hitting it big from Mannymania, so a 19-year-old Filipino southpaw seemed worth a look.

In some respects, maybe Gesta wasn’t that impressive that night on the David Diaz-Erik Morales undercard. He won a tight majority decision over a fighter named Carlos Madrid. But Top Rank also knew that Madrid had in his previous fight pushed lightweight prospect Brandon Rios to a six-round split decision, too.

At any rate, they saw enough in Gesta, still young and developing his game, to keep him on their cards going forward. He fought on several Top Rank events over the next few years, but while there was the sort of forced hype of him potentially being a “next Pacquiao” — which a lot of Filipino fighters at the end of the last decade got, similar to the many “next Bob Dylans” that were sold from the 1960s into the early 1980s — that was really never in the cards. And while he was fighting regularly from 2008-12, he also didn’t step up the competition in too dramatic a manner.

When Gesta got his title shot at Vazquez in Dec. 2012, featured on the undercard where Juan Manuel Marquez knocked Manny Pacquiao unconscious in the main event, he was out of his depth. A crafty and awkward opponent for anyone at the time, Vazquez boxed circles around Gesta, exposing his flaws for everyone to see.

That was Gesta’s swan song with Top Rank. He hadn’t advanced the way they wanted, and they gave him a sink or swim title shot. He sank, and was left to pick up his career from there, returning four months later under the Golden Boy banner.

He won a couple of get-well sort of fights before going to a draw with Carlos Molina (the one who was dominated by Amir Khan and Adrien Broner, not the one who won a world title at 154) in 2015. It wasn’t a loss, but it was definitely something of a setback. He won three more times, most notably knocking out Martin Honorio in July 2017, before he got another world title shot, this time against Linares.

When he’s on his game and at a weight that suits him, Linares is one of boxing’s better talents of recent memory. And he was on his game in Jan. 2018 when he won a clear decision over Gesta.

Again, Gesta had been exposed at the world level. Again, he set the course for a comeback.

In June of last year, he beat Robert Manzanarez via majority decision. Manzanarez came in with a 36-1 record, but had mostly built that facing weak opposition. Manzanarez would go on to lose his next fight, too.

On Thursday night, Gesta matches up with Mexican southpaw Juan Antonio Rodriguez (29-7, 25 KO), who has a great KO percentage that is, again, built largely against inferior opponents. He was beaten in 2012 by Billy Dib, in 2014 by Javier Fortuna, in 2015 by Jezreel Corrales, and in 2017 by Pedro Campa. His last win was three years ago, in March of 2016, and he hasn’t fought in nearly two years.

A win over Rodriguez won’t really mean a whole lot. Gesta has plenty of victories over guys at this level. But the boxing game has changed dramatically this year, and fighters with good-looking records and any name recognition are more valuable than ever. With the way the sport is now split between three major factions thanks to big money TV and streaming deals for Golden Boy and Matchroom (DAZN), Top Rank (ESPN), and PBC (FOX and Showtime), the mid-range fighters like Gesta are firmly in the mix for world title fights, even if they arguably shouldn’t be.

Everyone needs to fill their dates with a ton of fights. Right now, the sport’s cup runneth over with available televised and streamed content — there’s arguably too much for even the diehard fans to follow, and there are certainly not enough actually compelling matchups filling these shows. It’s why Luis Collazo is probably going to wind up fighting Terence Crawford at some point, or why Jamel Herring is getting a world title shot against Masayuki Ito. It’s one of the reasons Josesito Lopez got a shot at Keith Thurman in January.

The lightweight titles are currently outside of the DAZN family of fighters. Vasiliy Lomachenko holds the WBA and WBO belts, and Richard Commey the IBF, with both guys fighting for Top Rank, but the WBC belt may come loose soon. It’s currently held by PBC’s Mikey Garcia, who just went up to welterweight to get routed by Errol Spence Jr.

If Garcia decides to move down, it’ll probably be to 140, meaning he’d finally vacate the WBC 135-pound belt. Luke Campbell is currently the mandatory challenger, and he’s a Matchroom/DAZN fighter. He’d get a shot at the vacant title. Gesta wouldn’t be in the running to face Campbell for the vacant belt without some major trickery, since Gesta is currently the No. 33-ranked contender by the WBC’s most recent update, but if Campbell were to fight and beat, say, Zaur Abdullaev or Devin Haney (who recently took a meeting with Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn), then he’d need available challengers.

And with the way everything is structured at the moment, that would put Gesta in the mix. And while it’s unlikely they could reasonably vault him up high enough to face Campbell straight off in a vacant title fight, the WBC could easily creatively leapfrog him enough on the contenders list to make it happen another title shot happen later on.

None of that is a guarantee, of course, but Gesta may have another window, so long as he keeps winning, even if it’s not against the strongest competition in the world. That starts tomorrow night.

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