The only two fights Mercito "No Mercy" Gesta lost in 35 professional bouts came when a world title was on the line. Thursday the San Diego-based Filipino begins his quest for a third shot when he takes on Roberto "Tito" Manzanarez in a 10-round lightweight match at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California.
In his most recent bout, the 30-year-old Gesta (31-2-2, 17 KOs) lost a unanimous 12-round decision to then 135-pound titleholder Jorge Linares on Jan. 27, 2018.
"They swapped a lot of clean punches, but it was Linares who was landing the harder shots," reported ESPN's Dan Rafael from ringside.
Gesta's other title fight defeat came against Miguel Vazquez in August 2012, also via unanimous decision. Vazquez has subsequently lost his title and moved up to welterweight.
Manzanarez (36-1, 29 KOs) is no easy comeback opponent. He is younger than Gesta by seven years, taller by five inches and his reach is three inches longer.
"We've been checking out video on my opponent," Gesta said. "Manzanarez really uses his height. He knows how to back up and he knows how to use his reach when he comes to attack. He's going to be a difficult opponent for me, but we're prepared for this. We studied him, and we have a plan for this fight."
One advantage Gesta has is that he's fought better opposition. Besides going the distance with Linares and Vazquez, he came off the floor to win a unanimous decision over Gilberto Gonzalez, who was on an eight-bout winning streak going into their April 2017 match.
Gesta turned pro in 2003 without benefit of any amateur bouts. He tallied 10 wins and a draw in the Philippines before relocating to the United States in 2006.
Although the 23-year-old Manzanarez was born in Phoenix, Arizona, he moved to Los Mochis, Mexico, when he was 12 years old. He doesn't know the exact number but said he had around 100 amateur fights before turning pro in September 2010 at the age of 15.
Although he has a 78 percent knockout ratio, Manzanarez is not a slugger. He's a counterpuncher who makes good use of his height, reach and quick feet. Sometimes, however, he is too tentative and can be outworked.
"Robert's very relaxed in the ring. That's OK, but sometimes you've got to be a little bit aggressive," said his trainer, Jose Benavidez. "I have to pressure him to give me some more explosive combinations, to take the initiative."
Manzanarez has been training for approximately three months for the Gesta fight, first in his family's gym in Los Mochis, then at the City Boxing Club in Las Vegas.
"I've seen Mercito Gesta fight before," Manzanarez said. "He's a fast fighter, but I think I can beat him. I've been training really hard for this fight and I'm confident. It's going to be a good fight."
Fans might be in for a treat in the co-feature, when featherweights Manny "Chato" Robles III and Edgar "Kid Neza" Valerio meet in a battle of undefeated prospects.
Like most prospects, Robles (15-0, 7 KOs) and Valerio (13-0, 8 KOs) have been fighting limited opposition, which makes this match a significant step up. It will also be the first scheduled 10-rounder for both boxers.
The 24-year-old Robles, from Lake Elsinore, California, was originally trained by his father, Manny Roble Jr., but is currently working with Rudy Hernandez at Legendz Gym in Norwalk, California.
"I started working with Rudy just to get a different look," Robles said. "My dad is always going to be there. He's always going to be my coach."
Although the Valerio fight is only his second working with Hernandez, Robles is pleased with the results.
"Training with Rudy has kind of changed my style," Robles said. "I've really improved on fighting on the inside, so that's been great, and I'm picking my shots, turning my punches over, just having more power in my shots.
"This is a big opportunity for me, my first 10-round fight and I'll be showcasing my talents on ESPN. That's going to be cool. It's the most important fight of my life, that's for sure."
Under his original management, Valerio had difficulty getting fights and didn't fight at all in 2015, but that changed when Joel De La Hoya became his manager and Golden Boy his promoter. He had five fights in 2016 and three in 2017. The Robles match will be his second in 2018.
Valerio, 23, was born in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, México, but was raised in Los Angeles. In his most recent bout, he scored a wicked first-round one-punch knockout of Giovani Carlo at the Belasco Theater in Los Angles, the venue for eight of his fights.
"I believe Manny Robles is a very good fighter, one of the most talented upcoming young gladiators," Valerio said. "This is a difficult fight; this is the reality of boxing. You can't be like, 'Oh my God, I'm facing another undefeated fighter.' We're taking this opportunity, grabbing it with both hands. We're going to prevail. We're going to conquer, devour, and demonstrate our abilities and show what boxing's all about."