Monday, March 20, 2023

Making The Best Of Unforseen Circumstances, Mercito Gesta Seizes The Day

Originally, this column was to be the follow-up/post-fight feature to the much anticipated Light-Heavyweight clash between former WBC Super-Middleweight world champion Gilberto Ramirez and longtime veteran contender and former world title challenger Gabriel Rosado in what was to be Rosado's debut in the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division. As most now know however, the fight was cancelled on the day before the scheduled March 18th bout at the official weigh-in when Ramirez arrived in being what was described as significantly overweight and in no condition to attempt to get down in weight to a point where the bout was salvageable, resulting in the fight being cancelled.

While this is certainly nothing new in the sport of Boxing as it is unfortunately all too common for there to be complications regarding the weight of a fighter in at least one bout on a full card, the cancellation, though disappointing did not result in the entire card being cancelled along with it as unfortunately also tends to happen when a main event for whatever reason is cancelled. Instead, the fight that was slated as the co-main event would be elevated to the featured bout of the evening at the Walter Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach University in Long Beach, CA.

This bout, much as was the case between Ramirez and Rosado featured the storyline of a former world champion going against a veteran contender and former world title challenger. Some may also continue the similarity by also pointing out that the veteran in this case, as it was with Rosado, could have been making his last stand in an attempt to once again get an opportunity to fight for a world championship. This observer is referring to the encounter between former IBF Jr. Lightweight world champion Joseph Diaz and longtime contender Mercito Gesta. A fight that took place in the 135lb. Lightweight division.

Although yours truly was intending to save his coverage of this fight to be included in an upcoming edition of the periodic feature Jabs and Observations here on The Boxing Truth® where I discuss several topics in the sport including bouts that could not be covered in a shorter timeframe for one reason or another, the unforeseen circumstances of the Ramirez-Rosado cancellation facilitated the need to change those plans. This bout was however, no less intriguing both due to the aforementioned similarities of this bout to the cancelled original main event, but also because of an interesting clash of styles between the two fighters.

Joseph Diaz is known as a boxer/puncher, but has been more than willing to engage with his opponents in heated exchanges as was the case when he won his world title by defeating Tevin Farmer in January 2020, shortly before the circumstances of  the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic brought much of the world including sports to a halt for much of that year. Diaz, who's struggle to make the 130lb. Jr. Lightweight limit, resulted in his losing the title on the weight scale prior to a scheduled title defense in February 2021, had gone on a streak that can be described as akin to a baseball player going through a "Slump" in that since he defeated Farmer, he had gone 1-2-1 in his previous four bouts prior to this fight. 

Mercito Gesta meanwhile is also a fighter that can do a little bit of everything, but was more known as a fighter who had come up short when he stepped up in caliber of opposition including when he challenged Miguel Vazquez for the IBF World Lightweight championship in December 2012. Despite the fact that Gesta had only been stopped once in thirty-nine professional fights prior to taking on Diaz, at thirty-five years old, having been through a long career up to this point, it was understandable how some may have questioned how much Mercito Gesta had left at this stage of his career.

What stood out immediately in this fight was Gesta's ability to use his footwork not only as a means of creating lateral movement, but also to create angles. This resulted in Gesta being able to attack in short, but explosive spurts, often throwing punches in variations of between four and eight punch combinations at a time to the body and head of Diaz. While such offensive tactics are often flashy and attention-grabbing not just for fans watching a fight, but also perhaps the three official judges who are tasked with scoring a bout, what this does from a tactical standpoint is ! make the opponent go on the defensive where they are occupied with trying to protect themselves from incoming punches rather than letting their hands go.

Joseph Diaz did succeed in being able to block a good portion of Gesta's offense by tightening up and staying behind a high defensive guard. This in turn resulted in a lot of Gesta's punches either hitting Diaz' gloves or hitting his arms if they were not able to connect cleanly. What was also noticeable was whenever Diaz was able to let his hands go and connected with punches of his own, Gesta answered back immediately throwing combinations.

As the fight progressed, it became more competitive. The pattern of the fight however, largely remained the same. Gesta getting his punches off first, attacking at varying angles, keeping his opponent from being able to let his hands go consistently, and Diaz attempting to walk Gesta down, try to either corner him or get him against the ropes, and then let his hands go. Although Diaz succeeded in backing Gesta up against the ropes periodically throughout this fight, the issue became whether those instances would be enough for him to earn the nod of the three judges as in seemingly every round, Gesta was outworking him. A round in professional Boxing for men's bouts is three minutes in duration. There are certainly more than a few ways to win a round, but generally the fighter who is busier over the duration of a round will get the nod over a fighter who might be more accurate with his offense.

This is essentially the scenario in which this fight was fought. One of the ways a fighter that is more accurate can win a round over a volume puncher is to land the harder, more damaging punches, if not also score knockdowns, which depending on the number of knockdowns over the course of a fight, could have a significant impact on how a bout is ultimately scored if a fight does go the scheduled distance.

The conundrum here is neither Diaz nor Gesta are known for punching power and as such it became difficult, at least in my eyes, to justify giving Diaz some rounds throughout this scheduled ten round bout that others may have seen as close due to Diaz being able to have moments periodically throughout several of them. The reason for this in this observer's eyes came down to this. When he did let his hands go, Joseph Diaz was both accurate and the punches he threw landed cleanly. At no point however, was he able to hurt Gesta, much less discourage him from returning offense. This in addition to Diaz being unable to score knockdowns is primarily what I based my scoring on in having Gesta ahead 97-93 or seven rounds to three on my unofficial scorecard at the conclusion of the ten round bout.

While it is indisputable that Joseph Diaz applied constant pressure from the outset of this fight and that pressure led to some heated exchanges of offense between the two fighters as well as opened opportunities for Diaz in the latter rounds as I felt he was able to win three out of the last five rounds, ultimately, he simply was not busy enough and allowed Mercito Gesta to put too many of the early rounds in the bank as well as generally outwork him throughout the fight. The assessment of yours truly was seemingly confirmed by two of three official judges that had Gesta ahead, resulting in him winning a ten round split decision by margins of nine rounds to one, 99-91 and eight rounds to two 98-92. The third judge meanwhile had what some might view as a drastic difference in scoring Diaz the winner seven rounds to three or 97-93.

Ultimately, that scorecard though differing from what appears to be a consensus score of not only yours truly, but of two official judges who were scoring the same fight, it did not have as severe an impact as it potentially could have in terms of the outcome. If one were to ask me as for what the reasoning might be for a scorecard that differs from what seemingly is a consensus score, obviously I am unable to get into a judge's head, much less be able to distinguish what he or she might base their scoring on based on established criteria of clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship, and defense. Based on a literal lifetime that this observer has spent covering Boxing on every level imaginable, I can however, suggest that a potential reason could be that Diaz was applying pressure seemingly from the opening bell and that along with being able to block or otherwise deflect a portion Gesta's punches over the course of the fight in addition to his landing cleanly when he was able to let his hands go might be how that judge arrived at a differing scorecard at the end of the bout. It is also important to keep in mind that Boxing is scored on a round by round basis, which leaves opportunity for both interpretation as well as a judge perhaps not knowing what their final score might be as once a round concludes, judges are to score that round only and turn that score in to the athletic commission or regulatory board that is sanctioning and overseeing a fight. If fights do go the distance, scores from each individual round is then tabulated and added up into what is referred to as a master scorecard of the aforementioned parties sanctioning the bout totalling the three judges individual scorecards to then determine a winner.

Although this particular fight might not warrant such a thorough explanation by yours truly in regard to the procedures and process of scoring a fight, the fan should take the time to learn about said protocols. In any event, I do not feel this fight was in any way controversial in terms of how it was scored, but it does boil down to both interpretation as well as one's perspective. For Mercito Gesta, the thirty-fourth win of his forty fight career might be one that could elevate him towards a potential world title shot at Lightweight. After suffering his third consecutive loss in his last five fights, I do not believe that Joseph Diaz is approaching what some might call the twilight of his career. It is clear however, that he has not been the same fighter since he won his world championship as a Jr. Lightweight. Whether the circumstances of COVID-19 which led to a layoff for him or possibly issues outside the ring are contributing factors or not, I certainly can not say, but it would appear that something is not working for him in some aspect and a retooling process should be considered before attempting to go back to the drawing board.

"And That's The Boxing Truth."

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