Jesse Magdaleno Shows Off In Top Rank Showcase, Mercito Gesta Doesn’t Show Enough

Mercito Gesta has been fed easy fight after easy fight by promoter Top Rank, despite the lightweight prospect-shoud-be-a-contender-by-now having real skill and explosiveness and flying a flag — that of the Philippines — that is plenty marketable in boxing these days. But after his performance on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights, maybe it ought to be clear why Top Rank isn’t putting him in a meaningful bout. He’s a talent, all right, but he’s one who doesn’t fight for all three minutes of every round. It’s a bad habit that’s bound to hurt him when he gets pushed by someone who can push him.

Ty Barnett brought power and an inability to stand up to power. As our old friend Gautham Nagesh wote in a beautiful piece for the Washington Post this week, Barnett also had a chip on his shoulder. But for the first couple rounds against a version of Gesta who was showing off all his plumage, Barnett looked lost.

Then, Gesta does what Gesta does: He got listless. And without Gesta attacking him relentlessly, Barnett started turning over big right hands. Even in such a passive posture, Gesta impressed — he was taking big shots, and none of them affected him much if at all. But it was bewildering. Why let a shaky-chinned power puncher back in the fight?

It played out like that until late in the 5th, when Gesta put together a combination that nearly dropped Barnett, and with Gesta in full attack, Barnett proved two things: He has guts, but he doesn’t know how to hold when he’s in trouble. And for a few more semi-listless rounds, Gesta maintained the control he resumed in the 5th, until he finally hurt Barnett again in the 9th and put him away with one knockdown and then another that came after the bell but that referee Jay Nady allowed to be a regular old knockdown. When Barnett got up, everyone could see he shouldn’t continue, from his corner to Nady.

Right now, I just want to see Gesta step up, come what may. Maybe he’s developed this bad habit of lacking intensity as a result of being bored with lackluster competition. Maybe he has conditioning issues. Maybe there’s something else missing that I don’t see but that Top Rank does. All I know is that I see a fighter who does everything else right: He fires sharp, tight combinations, he hits hard, he can take a punch, he has speed. Why not see how he flies without the net?

Now, Jesse Magdaleno — there’s a guy who was in a Top Rank showcase fight on FNF and really showed it all, including intensity. The junior featherweight prospect was in there against Aldimar Santos, who brought an admirable willingness to mix it up but a pretty non-descript 17-2 record. Therefore, the drool-worthy performance Magdaleno delivered should be viewed with a slight degree of skepticism. But he’s my kind of fighter — combinations, skills, explosiveness, inside-fighting ability. He fired a nifty three-punch combo that decked Magdaleno in the 1st, then finished him off in the 2nd. And he has massive confidence about himself and top-ranked junior featherweight sibling Diego, as he told our old friend Mike Coppinger for RingTV: “We’re going to be legendary.” I like the ambition. It’s far, far too early to find out if he’s right. But it very well could be fun finding out.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.