Saturday’s Top Rank card on ESPN is going head-to-head with what is the biggest fight thus far in 2019, the Canelo vs Jacobs event at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.
But 520 miles away in Stockton, California, the fans have bought tickets in droves, with over 10,000 expected at Stockton Arena. It surely helps that there are two world titles on the line — IBF light heavyweight titleholder Artur Beterbiev faces Radivoje Kalajdzic in the main event, and IBF super flyweight titleholder Jerwin Ancajas takes on Ryuichi Funai — but far and away the biggest reason for the ticket sales?
19-year-old super featherweight prospect Gabriel Flores Jr, taking to the ring in his hometown for the first time as a pro.
Flores (12-0, 5 KO) is such a hot property in Stockton that his six-round fight against Brazil’s Eduardo Pereiria (23-5, 19 KO) will air between the two title fights on ESPN, rather than part of the streaming ESPN+ prelims.
It makes sense — you don’t want those fans leaving before the main event if you put Flores on too early, and really, selling that many tickets means he deserves the brightest of the lights, too.
“Not many fighters can sell tickets, so for me to do it in my hometown at such a young age is a blessing,” Flores said at a media workout. “I have a great team behind me, and having ESPN come to Stockton is a dream come true.”
Flores’ adviser Rick Mirigian is thrilled with what he’s seeing, as you’d imagine.
“This city loves its young king,” he said. “No one this young is selling this many tickets, and Saturday will stand as one of this year’s biggest shows period across the board. A star has been born.”
“I honestly don’t feel pressure fighting in my hometown,” Flores says. “If anything, it gives me more motivation. I want to put Stockton back on the boxing map.”
The big goal is to return to Stockton with a world title someday.
Pereira, 29, is a decent step-up opponent for the young fighter, too. He’s got a pretty empty record, being honest, but he’s experienced and should be the type of guy Flores handles nicely as he works his way up.
“Pereira is a veteran who has fought many top prospects. He’s an aggressive fighter, which will make for a crowd-pleasing fight,” Flores said. “I want to show out for my hometown. There hasn’t been a boxing event like this is in Stockton for many years.”
Flores signed with Top Rank in 2016 when he was 16 years old, and turned pro in May 2017 in Reno on a card that aired on UniMás, just four days after his 17th birthday. In 2013, his mother passed away, and he says Saturday’s fight is for her.
“I want to go into the ring and make my mother proud,” he said. “I will go into the ring against a very experienced opponent. There will be bright lights and lasers flashing when I get into the ring and there will be bright lights and lasers flashing when I start fighting. Since I’ve been a small boy, I have dreamed of this day, and here we are at last.”
Top Rank has had great success drawing strong crowds two hours down the road in Fresno, using Jose Ramirez, from relatively nearby Avenal, to bring people in. Now the WBC 140-pound titleholder, Ramirez has kept fighting in Fresno after reaching the top. That could be the sort of future Flores has waiting in Stockton.
So keep Flores on your radar, if he wasn’t already there. Selling tickets in boxing anymore is not the easiest thing — we’ve seen plenty of recent major, televised cards that have proven that — and when a fighter can do it at 19, you’re talking about a potential real star down the road.