Jorge Linares was once hailed as a future superstar, but back-to-back KO losses to Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson relegated the Venezuelan to the "unfulfilled potential" bin. In the last five years, however, Linares has clawed his way back to relevancy thanks to 12 consecutive victories, including back-to-back points wins over Anthony Crolla to win, then retain, the WBA lightweight title. A proposed unification fight against WBC titlist Mikey Garcia fell through thanks to a pair of Garcia rejections, so now Linares has turned to Filipino Mercito Gesta, who, like Linares, has been an excellent road warrior.
Since coming to the U.S. in 2007, Gesta has gone 21-1-1 with 14 KOs, with the only loss coming against then IBF lightweight king Miguel Vazquez . He has also won three straight since emerging from a career-long hiatus lasting nearly 18 months. Will this fast track to a world title shot result in victory or will Linares' exquisite skills derail him?
Linares vs. Lefties
Linares will be facing his second consecutive southpaw opponent in Gesta, and if his most recent bout against Luke Campbell is any indicator he may be in for quite the challenge. On the positive side, Linares dominated early in terms of the "eye test" as a right hand in round two both dropped Campbell and opened a nasty gash under the right eye. Statistically speaking, however, Campbell led 55-51 overall and 42-29 power in the first five rounds, plus he scrapped his way back into the fight in the middle rounds thanks to his mobility and well-timed punches. In rounds 6-10 Campbell prevailed 67-62 overall and 44-34 power, but Linares summoned a rally in the final two rounds (27-19 overall, 14-8 jabs, 13-11 power) to get within 141-140 overall and 97-76 power while also leading 64-44 in landed jabs. Linares won because of his early dominance, the second-round knockdown, his better finish and his superior accuracy in all phases (34%-27% overall, 29%-19% jabs, 39%-33% power).
His two other fairly recent fights against southpaws were more dominant as he pounded out a lopsided decision against Nihito Arakawa and piled up huge numbers against DeMarco before a late swoon doomed him. In his three fights against Campbell, Arakawa and DeMarco, Linares averaged 49 punches per round (to their 48), landed more (19.2-11.2 overall, 4.7-2.4 jabs, 14.4-8.8 power) and did so more accurately (39%-23% overall, 25%-13% jabs, 47%-30% power). Compare those figures to those compiled in seven CompuBox-tracked fights against right-handers in the same period; he was much more active (63.6 punches per round compared to 49 against the lefties) but was less dominant against them in the raw numbers (17.4-11.4 per round overall, 5.8-2.8 jabs, 11.5-8.6 power) and in accuracy (27%-22% overall, 16%-12% jabs, 41%-29% power).
So, it can be said that Linares, at least in terms of numbers, performs better against southpaws than against right-handers. That's bad news for Gesta.
Big Stage, Little Stage
This will be Gesta's most important fight since his lone title shot against then-IBF lightweight king Miguel Vazquez in December 2012, a fight in which he averaged just 28 punches per round to Vazquez's 51.5 and was out-landed 185-61 overall, 68-15 jabs and 117-46 power as well as 49%-18% in power accuracy. In the four CompuBox-tracked fights since then (against the less heralded Luis Arceo, Carlos Molina, Miguel Angel Mendoza and Gilberto Gonzalez), Gesta has performed much better statistically as he averaged a combined 63.3 punches per round to his foes' 51, jabbed much better (24.1 thrown/4.5 connects per round to their 14 thrown/3.0 connects), landed more often (18.7 vs. 13.8 in total connects per round, 14.2 vs. 10.8 landed power shots per round) and connected more precisely overall (30%-27%) and in power punches (36%-29%).
However, those fights still saw Gesta experience adversity. Gesta's "too cool for school" approach nearly cost him against Molina; while statistically dominant (200-123 overall, 42-27 jabs, 158-96 power; round-by-round leads of 10-0 overall, 6-2-2 jabs and 9-0-1 power), Molina's never-say-die aggression impressed the judges enough to get a split draw. Also, Mendoza scored a flash knockdown in round two and pushed Gesta hard throughout the first four rounds (he led 59-46 overall and 57-40 power), but in rounds 5-10 Gesta chipped away by upping his work rate from 59.3 to 60.5 and out-landing Mendoza 81-68 overall to tie him at 127 total connects and 66-63 power to get within 120-106 in power connects. Despite the close numbers, Gesta exited StubHub with larger-than-reality leads of 96-93 overall and 97-92 twice.
Gesta also had to overcome an early knockdown against Gonzalez (round three) two fights earlier, but, as he did against Mendoza, he regained control in the fourth and used his skills to pound out another wider-than-reality decision (99-91, 98-92, 96-93). The final numbers were close (Gesta led 199-166 overall and 86-48 jabs while Gonzalez prevailed 118-113 power) despite Gesta being the far more active fighter (70.5 per round to Gonzalez's 49.6). Yes, Gesta has won his fights, but he'll need to up his game considerably if he is to dethrone Linares.
Inside The Numbers
They throw and land similar amount of punches, with Linares being the harder, sharper puncher. Linares landed 44% of his power punches (last six fights), while opponents landed just 29.3%. Gesta's won four straight since decision loss to Vazquez, who landed 49.4% of his power punches vs. Gesta.
Despite his extraordinary skill level there is a fragility to Linares that adds a layer of tension and suspense to his fights. But is Gesta emotionally equipped to take advantage of it? The guess here is no. Not only is Gesta inconsistent, he also has a bad habit of fighting with a lowered guard. Against a sharp-shooter like Linares, that spells disaster. Also, Gesta is chinny as he has been floored in two of his last three fights. Finally, the stats say Linares actually performs better — at least statistically — against left-handers. Linares by comfortable decision.