The Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, Calif., has quickly become the Mecca of aspiring young Filipino boxers hoping to make it big in America.
Combined with legendary trainer Freddie Roach, the success and presence of seven time world champion Manny Pacquiao has created a foster home type of environment for a large contingent of the Philippines' best boxing stars.
The invaluable association with Team Pacquiao and coach Roach also includes side benefits; like connections with Top Rank promotions and Pacquiao's adviser, Michael Koncz.
It is a feasible rite of passage for any hopeful world champion to embark on.
After all, the path has already been trailblazed by Pacquiao and proven to be a recipe for success. All you have to do is show up, concentrate on your craft, and work your tail off. I believe it is the option most young men would be more than happy to take.
Enter Mercito "No Mercy" Gesta, he's not most young men.
Brought stateside in November of 2006 by Top Rank and Koncz, Gesta was supposed to box on Pacquiao's undercards upon arrival. But for one reason or another, those fights never panned out.
So Gesta assessed his situation in Hollywood, and decided that he would instead set himself apart from the environment which he was beckoned over to flourish in.
"He's not really a star struck type of kid," Gesta's co-manager, Vince Parra, told me during a phone interview on Tuesday. "He doesn't feel like he needs this guy or that guy. He's out here on his own merits and he's got his own plan."
And that plan started to take shape when his long-time trainer, Carl Penalosa, decided to set up shop in a San Diego, Calif., gym back in 2007. Gesta made the 130-mile trek south and joined up with the boxing wizard he has known since he was a 15-year-old kid back in Cebu.
The change of scenery has been good for Gesta, and he is now signed on with Hall of Fame promoter Don Chargin.
"I like San Diego way better than Los Angeles," Gesta let on during the phone interview. "I like the climate, I like the beaches, and also it's quiet. It's not crazy like Los Angeles."
Parra meanwhile, has been working hard to establish some connections for Gesta amongst the large Filipino population in America's Finest City.
"When he decided that he wanted to be a San Diegan and stay down here, I tried to plug him in with the local Filipino community," Parra said.
And those efforts have started to pay off.
Jeff Rosete, CEO of Flip Squad Apparel, has recently decided to pair up with Team Gesta and support the young fighter in any manner they can.
Now, after a slow transition to life in America, the 22-year-old southpaw is a lightning rod all his own. A main event if you will, and he is establishing himself as a production of brevity to be reckoned with.
The Mandaue City native has anesthetized four out of his last five opponents and two of them went sleepy in the first round.
Gesta celebrated his 0:44 second KO of Alain Hernandez last May with a victory dance across the stage. Who knows, maybe he felt guilty for ending the party early and just wanted to ensure that everybody got their money's worth, I really don't know what he was thinking.
But it worked.
The already electrified crowd at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter was sent into a frenzy upon witnessing "No Mercy" stomp across the ring in triumph. Trust me, if you remember anything from reading this story, remember this—Mercito Gesta is a finisher and an entertainer to the highest degree, he is a certified banger.
Don't let his babyface looks and his articulate conversation fool you, once the lightweight left-hander laces up his gloves and pops in his mouthpiece, he is all business.
During our phone call, Gesta turned me on to exactly what makes him tick.
"My parents, and uncles, and all those people back in the Philippines that support me and believe in me," Gesta said. "They believe that I'm going to be a champion, and I believe it too. We're gonna be there, we're gonna get that championship. That's what I'm planning and that's what I'm dreaming of."
And if Parra is to be believed, that day is coming sooner rather than later.
"I've had him in there [sparring] with real good fighters," he said. "I took him to work with Jorge Linares for a couple weeks before he lost his [WBA] title. I just got him done with Antonio DeMarco, getting him ready for [his fight with] Edwin Valero and he's no joke. Mercito is as good, if not better, than any of those guys.
"And the people on the inside that know, when Gesta came over [to America] he was part of the same kind of class as Bernabe Concepcion, Nonito Donaire, and all those guys that came around the same time.
"The people who know, they will tell you that Mercito's probably the best of the bunch."
Reached by phone yesterday for comment, four-time Trainer of the Year award winner Freddie Roach echoed those sentiments, stating "I've always liked [Gesta]. He has a lot of potential. He's one of the best Philippine prospects, I definitely feel that."
And if there is anyone on the inside who knows things, like Parra is suggesting, Roach would assuredly be at the tippity top of the list...just keep that in mind.
The next step in Gesta's self-blazed path to stardom (he is 16-0-1 with 7 KO's), will take place tomorrow night at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in San Diego. That is where he will be facing Cristian Favela (17-24-6 with 10 KO's) of Sinaloa, Mexico.
This is actually going to be their second match-up, and Favela is the only fighter in those last five bouts that Gesta was unable to KO. He will of course be looking to change that on Thursday.
Asked if he was going to have the same strategy as the first fight, Gesta said, "I think I'm still going to do the same thing, but this time I'm going to follow-up more. If I hit him and hurt him, I'm going to follow it up and try to look for a finish.
"That's what I'm planning right now, just finish it."
If he does KO Favela, and if he continues to fight like he has been, Mercito Gesta will eventually become the best Filipino fighter that everyone does know.
And not the one that they don't.
Tickets for this fight are going fast.
They can be found at sandiegofights.com.
Or by calling 619-420-8866.