Miguel Vazquez vs. Mercito Gesta: Preview and Predictions for IBF Title Fight

Zachary Alapi@@ZacharyAlapiCorrespondent IDecember 4, 2012

Miguel Vazquez vs. Mercito Gesta: Preview and Predictions for IBF Title Fight

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    An established champion defending his title against a talented, rising contender generally makes for a compelling fight. Miguel Vazquez’s IBF lightweight title defense against Mercito Gesta on Saturday’s Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez undercard figures to offer such intrigue.

    Vazquez-Gesta is one of three interesting undercard bouts in support of Pacquiao and Marquez’s fourth encounter. With the likes of Yuriorkis Gamboa and Javier Fortuna also appearing in separate bouts, Vazquez-Gesta should offer a combination of competitive action and tactical boxing.

    But how will the fight unfold? And who holds the edge?

    Vazquez (32-3, 13 KO) is a rangy boxer who is more about substance than flash. While he lacks power, Vazquez employs sustained movement, an active jab and clubbing shots to outmaneuver his opponent. That said, Vazquez struggled in his most recent title defense against Marvin Quintero.

    So, is the IBF champion vulnerable?

    Gesta (26-0-1, 14 KO) undoubtedly brings more power to the ring. The Filipino contender is adept at fighting in the pocket, and he hooks well and throws sharp uppercuts from his southpaw stance. However, Gesta has fought a limited level of opposition and has defensive deficiencies.

    In analyzing Vazquez-Gesta, ring generalship immediately springs to mind as one of the fight’s crucial tactical elements. Will Gesta be able to effectively cut off the ring and get inside? Or will Vazquez be able to avoid Gesta’s power shots with movement and box his way to a decision from the outside?

    Vazquez has obviously proven himself at the championship level. Still, Gesta has an abundance of natural ability and has developed his power since turning professional at 16. Whether Gesta can avoid defensive lapses and work his way past Vazquez’s jab will also prove telling.

    With that, let’s find out exactly what to expect—including a prediction—when Vazquez and Gesta enter the ring.

Experience vs. Recent Form

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    Vazquez has made four defenses of his IBF lightweight title since wresting the belt from Ji-Hoon Kim in 2010. Perhaps more telling is that all of Vazquez’s defeats have come north of 135 pounds against elite opposition; Vazquez has twice lost to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and once to Timothy Bradley, all via decision. 

    At lightweight, Vazquez’s gangly 5’10" frame has mostly smothered and out-boxed his opposition.

    With title-retaining victories over Ricardo Dominguez, Leonardo Zappavigna, Ammeth Diaz and Marvin Quintero, Vazquez has proven himself against legitimate contenders. Vazquez has also gone the 12-round distance in all of his championship fights, and he knows how to mix a stiff jab and combinations to win rounds.

    That said, Vazquez struggled to win a split decision victory in his last fight against the aforementioned Quintero (25-4, 21 KO). So, is the timing optimal for a talented but moderately experienced prospect/contender like Gesta to score an upset?

    If Vazquez struggled in his last fight, Gesta has been steadily building momentum. Since Gesta had to settle for a technical draw against Rey Llagas in 2005, he has scored 17 consecutive victories. Even more impressive is that Gesta has registered seven stoppages in his last 10 fights.

    Gesta turned professional at 16, and it is clear that he has matured into his body. Thus, his power is more explosive than his 51.85 knockout percentage might suggest. Recent stoppages over Oscar Cuero and Ty Barnett were decisive performances. Also, Gesta won a lopsided decision against Ricardo Dominguez, a man Vazquez also dominated in defense of his IBF title.

    Vazquez’s performance against Quintero was likely an aberration. If Gesta is the more explosive fighter, Vazquez’s boxing skills and experience must not be discounted. Look for Vazquez to rebound with a more aggressive performance against Gesta.

Vazquez Movement vs. Gesta’s Ring Generalship

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    The outcome of Vazquez-Gesta could depend on which fighter is able to impose their fighting style on the other. Vazquez is a slick yet awkward boxer who relies on movement and a stiff jab to befuddle his opponents. Conversely, Gesta is compact, powerful and adept at fighting in the pocket.

    Given this sharp contrast, movement and ring generalship will be key for both men.

    Vazquez has always fought well off of his back foot. Generally, however, Vazquez combines his rangy counter-punching with smothering burst of forward movement. This is a credit to Vazquez’s awkward versatility, as is his ability to consistently pump a stiff jab in his opponent’s face.

    Unfortunately, Vazquez spent more time on his bicycle than he did pressing his offense in his last fight against Marvin Quintero. While Vazquez was able to score cleanly throughout the fight, he spent too much time purposelessly circling the ring. This allowed Quintero to press forward and land straighter punches inside of Vazquez’s looping shots.

    Conversely, Vazquez showed tremendous variety in an earlier title defense against Ammeth Diaz. In this fight, Vazquez jabbed off of his back foot and landed stinging left hook counter shots. He also employed a clubbing right hand and moved forward with swarming combinations when he saw openings.

    Vazquez will need such variety against Gesta. In his two recent victories over Oscar Cuero and Ty Barnett, Gesta’s compact fighting stance allowed him to explode with tight, precise punches. Gesta was especially effective when throwing right uppercuts and hooks with his southpaw lead hand.

    Regarding movement, Gesta did a decent job of cutting off the ring against Cuero and Barnett. Still, Gesta will need to utilize hooks to the body more consistently to halt Vazquez’s movement. Gesta is adept at punching to the body; he did knock Cuero down with a right hook to the liver, but he is sporadic with his commitment downstairs.

    Gesta likes to remain balanced and planted to maximize his power. Unless he throws more left hooks to complement his powerful right hand, Gesta might find himself missing the elusive Vazquez.

Punch Output Will be Decisive

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    Because Vazquez is constantly moving and pumping his jab, he appears more active than statistics indicate (per BoxingScene.com). In the three fights leading up to his bout against Marvin Quintero, Vazquez averaged 53.4 punches thrown per round. This places Vazquez almost exactly 10 punches below the lightweight average of 63.1.

    Vazquez, however, averages 28 jabs per round, landing 8.8 for a connect percentage of 31.5. This is above the lightweight average across the board. Most impressive is that Vazquez’s jab connect percentage is 10 points higher than the 135-pound average of 21.5 percent.

    If Vazquez throws 13.1 fewer power punches than a typical lightweight, he offsets this deficiency by being elusive.

    While Vazquez’s fight against Quintero was close, consider these numbers (per BoxingScene.com): Regarding power shots, Quintero had averaged 19.9 punches landed out of 44.4 thrown leading up to his fight against Vazquez. This 44.8 connect percentage is well above the lightweight average of 36.1 percent.

    Against Vazquez, Quintero’s numbers suffered. He only averaged 33.2 power punches per round, landing 11.8 (11.2 and 8.1 below his normal output, respectively). Furthermore, Quintero’s connect percentage on power punches dropped from 44.8 percent to 35 percent. Even though Vazquez wasn’t sharp offensively, he did manage to frustrate Quintero.

    Whether Gesta can get into an offensive rhythm against Vazquez will largely determine the fight’s outcome.

    Against Ty Barnett, CompuBox numbers indicate that Gesta can both sustain and increase his punch output (per BoxingScene.com). Over the first four rounds, Gesta averaged 46.3 punches per round, connecting with an average of 13 blows. More importantly, Gesta’s plus/minus differential for punches thrown and landed in that span was never greater than six.

    A similarly consistent start against Vazquez will be essential. Gesta should set a steady pace early and expect to increase his activity as the fight progresses. Of course, Gesta was able to accomplish this against a lesser fighter in Barnett. Between Rounds 5 and 9, Gesta increased his averages to 65.8 punches thrown and 22.4 shots landed.

    Overall, Gesta connected with 132-of-368 power punches (36 percent) against Barnett. If Gesta’s numbers suffer the way Quintero’s did, he will likely lose to Vazquez. Gesta must force Vazquez to fight in the pocket, which should lead to a high number of landed power punches for the challenger. Conversely, consistent misses and a lower punch output favors Vazquez and his rangy jab.

    Vazquez is also adept at throwing and landing in the clinch. How Gesta handles this inevitable wrestling will dictate the fight’s tempo.

Will Gesta’s Mental Lapses Cost Him?

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    Despite Gesta’s undeniable talent, Vazquez can expose him in a few crucial areas. Whether it’s defensive lapses or getting overzealous when on the offensive, Gesta possesses some of the deficiencies one expects from a fighter without genuine world-level experience.

    Of course, dissecting Gesta’s weaknesses is not an indictment against his talent or his ability to upset Vazquez. Still, Vazquez-Gesta promises to reveal more about how polished and mature Gesta is than anything else.

    Despite stopping both Oscar Cuero and Ty Barnett, Gesta was susceptible to getting hit with overhand rights. At times, Gesta has a tendency to drop his hands, especially his right. When Gesta is pressured and backed up against the ropes, he also tries to slip punches with his head exposed. Vazquez employs an effective, clubbing right hand, and Gesta will have to watch closely for this punch.

    Gesta also fights in spurts. While his bursts of offense are precise and explosive, he did allow both Cuero and Barnett to land clean shots. Against Vazquez, Gesta needs to make sure he is always alert and purposeful. Even when he isn’t throwing punches, Gesta must keep a tight guard and move his head. Otherwise, Vazquez will pick him off from the outside.

    Against Cuero and Barnett, Gesta also showed a tendency to get overzealous in his follow-up assaults. For instance, when Gesta hurt Cuero in Round 7 of their fight, he eagerly rushed inside and headhunted. This exposed him to counters, and Cuero landed some solid hooks to rally. Similarly, Gesta was tagged in Round 3 against Barnett when he appeared to wobble his opponent.

    If Gesta hurts Vazquez, he will need to be calculated with his ensuing attack. Mixing body and head punches will also be paramount. Against Barnett, Gesta’s right hook to the body followed by a straight left hand upstairs was effective. He will need this variety against Vazquez.

    Gesta appears to have a strong chin. Whether this will be enough to overcome his lapses against Vazquez remains to be seen. 

Will Gesta Mimic Marvin Quintero?

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    Vazquez certainly underperformed in settling for a split decision against Marvin Quintero. However, to lay blame solely on Vazquez would be unfair to Quintero. In a somewhat sloppy fight, Quintero was able to make Vazquez genuinely uncomfortable.

    Vazquez spent the majority of the fight on his back foot. Some will accuse Vazquez of simply running, but Quintero’s aggression had much to do with this constant retreating. While Quintero could have cut off the ring more effectively, Gesta should emulate his intentions. If Gesta can land well to the body, he might be able to halt Vazquez’s backward and lateral movement.

    CompuBox numbers are also worth examining (per BoxingScene.com). While Vazquez does rely on his jab, Quintero was more active in their fight. Quintero threw 83 more power punches than Vazquez, landing 141 compared to 136. Ideally, Gesta will want to widen this gap, but he will benefit if he is aggressive with his power shots.

    Building strength is also important. Quintero’s most active rounds were the 10th and 11th stanzas where he threw 73 punches in each frame. Vazquez-Gesta figures to go the distance, and it will be crucial for Gesta to consistently increase his work rate. When Gesta manages to work past Vazquez’s jab, he will need to let his hands go.

    One area where Gesta will surely want to surpass Quintero is jabbing. Gesta doesn’t regularly throw his jab, often using the punch to measure distance. That said, Gesta is a right-handed southpaw. Thus, he can snap his jab with authority and power.

    Against Vazquez, Quintero never landed more than four jabs in a single round, and he was only 18-of-245 overall (seven percent). Gesta will need to use his jab more effectively to disrupt Vazquez’s rhythm. And if the punch isn’t landing, Gesta shouldn’t expose himself to as many counters as Quintero did.

    By being aggressive and assertive with his power punches, Quintero gave Vazquez an abundance of problems. While Vazquez completely negated Quintero’s jab, he was forced to fight almost exclusively off his back foot. If Gesta can either feint or connect with more jabs than Quintero did while sustaining a high volume of hard shots, he could score an upset.

Don’t Count on a Knockout

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    Against Oscar Cuero and Ty Barnett, Gesta laughed and postured his way through some big right hands. Especially impressive was how even when Gesta was tagged with a big shot, he seldom took a backward step. Gesta clearly has honed instincts, and his sturdy chin is one reason he is so comfortable fighting in the pocket.

    Vazquez has also proven to have a granite chin. Obviously, the primary difference is that Vazquez has fought better opposition. In his three career losses, Vazquez has never been stopped. While Timothy Bradley isn’t a knockout puncher, early setbacks against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez are more significant.

    Vazquez lost his professional debut to Alvarez—a two-fight novice at the time—via split decision. While this reveals little, their rematch in 2008 is more indicative of Vazquez’s durability. While Alvarez was certainly unpolished and only 19-0-1 at the time, Vazquez still withstood Alvarez’s blows for 10 rounds, not to mention that the fight was contested over the welterweight limit of 147 pounds.

    Considering that Vazquez now fights two divisions lighter at 135 pounds, it would likely take someone with special explosiveness—Adrien Broner, for instance—to stop him. Also, in 2009, Vazquez climbed off the deck to eek out a split decision victory over hard-punching Breidis Prescott. Clearly, Vazquez is a cagey and durable 12-round fighter.

    Gesta’s chin hasn’t exactly been tested against elite competition. Still, Vazquez is a light puncher who only sports a 37.14 knockout percentage. Furthermore, all of Vazquez’s title fights have gone the 12-round distance, and he has only recorded three stoppages in his last 10 fights.

    Both Vazquez and Gesta should have their moments of landing eye-catching shots. However, expect both men to absorb these punches and fight back stronger. 

And the Winner is…

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    Miguel Vazquez retains his IBF lightweight title via unanimous decision (115-113). 

    Vazquez-Gesta figures to be a competitive, tactical fight. Expect both fighters to have their moments in a bout that should feature noticeable shifts in ring generalship. For all the moments where Gesta will work his way past Vazquez’s jab, expect the IBF champion to counter with stretches of rangy boxing.

    Gesta certainly has the makings of a championship-calibre fighter. However, Vazquez should mix enough movement and bursts of aggression to claim a tight decision. Having struggled against another strong southpaw in Marvin Quintero, expect Vazquez to learn from his mistakes.

    Vazquez will control range by thrusting a stiff jab in Gesta’s face for 12 rounds. While Gesta will certainly land his powerful right hook and uppercut, Vazquez has an excellent chin. Vazquez will absorb Gesta’s best punches while countering with his left hook and scoring with his overhand right.

    Still, it won’t be easy. And this is why Vazquez’s swarming and awkward bursts of combination punching will prove decisive. Vazquez will stand his ground, and it will pay dividends.