Gabriel Flores Jr learned that he would be fighting in the main event Thursday night in Las Vegas the day of the bout. The kid–yes, I think we can still call the 20 year old that, being that his baby face could have him passing for 17–saw the Jose Pedraza-Mikkel LesPierre feature bout fall out, because of coronavirus.
Flores' face didn't betray a degree of anxiety which suggested the step up on the card would prove an energy drain, against Josec Ruiz, while he strode to the ring inside the MGM bubble.
And his fists, and feet, the whole package, it all worked in sync for the Cali native, who snagged a wide UD10 W on ESPN. The scores–Patricia Morse Jarman, Steve Weisfeld and Dave Moretti copied each others' papers, at 100-89. That brings Flores to 18-0, with 6 KOs. But…
But this was not a “I have seen the future of boxing” deal for anyone watching, this was a solid outing from someone who is a top tier prospect, not someone who had you thinking this was a ‘graduation to contender' party.
The winner admitted to Bernardo Osuna after that he hurt his lower back in his last sparring match, and that affected his effectiveness during this test. “This is the worst injury I had to deal with in a fight, and in my lower back, it hurts severely,” said the fighting pride of Stockton. The victor said he threw maybe 50% of the punches he could have, because he had ample energy but the back tweak was holding him back. He thinks he showed 50% of his best, and wanted a marquee effort to wow the watchers, which he admitted wasn't delivered.
Flores has had to deal with changes on a grander scale than this one; he lost his mom when he was 12. Juanita Maldonado died from being shot while attending a kid's party. Gunmen entered, five people were shot, and two died. The kid, who started boxing at age 7, necessarily had to grow up, toughen up, deal with unimaginable emotions to anyone who hasn't been told their mama had been slain. That is a make or break event in a life, and, to be honest, the damage can present itself later, down the line. But a purpose, such as the one Flores has, to rise the ranks of pugilism fast and hard, that seems likely to help him cope that much better.
Ruiz, a Honduras native who lives in Miami, entered at 21-2-3 (14 KOs). And you all know, boxing is the sport which exists for those that are considered by many to be society's wretched refuse. His mom died from AIDS, he bounced from home to home. He then found boxing, after a homeless stint, when he was considering dealing drugs to make ends meet. He found purpose, at age 16, and 18 months ago, he came to America.
In round one, Ruiz was the attacker, and got tagged with a left hook from Flores, who proved he was dangerous backing up. Sliding right, then bouncing left, Flores, who signed to Top Rank at age 16, gave different looks in the opening frame. His dad Gabe Sr, lead cornerman, liked the work he saw.
In round two, some of us watching were thinking about what the upset would mean to the person who wagered $187,000 to make $4,000 plus if Flores won. What an interesting wager at the MGM which Darren Rovell reported on. Then, a knockdown scored by the winner. A left hook buzzed Ruiz, and Flores saw it, and pounced. Three follows, a straight right the meanest, had Ruiz to his knees. His legs seemed acceptable, but not all the way back, when he stood up. 1:06 remained in the round. And Ruiz made it to the end of the session.
To round three–the jab was on, he looked relaxed and in control. Flores looked to be having fun. The placement of his hooks, high and then low, it looked a safe bet that the ludicrous bet would be collected by the bettor who embraced the lopsided odds. In round four, viewers saw Flores move smoothly, and Ruiz just miss with a sweeping right that Flores probably thought he'd avoid by another half inch. Was Ruiz adapting some, getting a bit more confident, because he was still there, for starters? In round five, it may've been that getting a wee bit tired was making Ruiz look a quarter notch better.
Round six we heard Flores Sr ask the boy to not back-slide so much, he wanted him to stick around in that pocket and add a few punches to each bunch. The loser moved forward, his confidence a full notch higher than in round two. But when he winged a right, Flores' D was still on message. He saw it coming, slipped it, and kept ready to counter.
If there had been a crowd there, I think they would have been pretty mellow by this point in the match. I do wonder, if this fight had been placed in a pro Flores space, would we have seen him ramp up and really get nasty in the second into the third rounds? Or no, because he doesn't trust in his power, or maybe hasn't been taught to learn how to maximize what he has.
In round 8, we saw tighter combos from Flores and the same amount of movement. He may well watch this fight, and hear Tim Bradley talk about how he'll need to get more comfy in the pocket, and spend extra time in that when he gets back to the gym. Here's my guess–the Flores that you see one year from now will feature much, much less movement. That burns energy, and other than keeping you out of range and not getting hit, well, much of that moving time is time that offense isn't even a possibility.
Round nine, then. Flores started the round with pep, showing pop, sending an early memo that he wasn't fading. “Hit the gas now, boy, hit the gas,” pop yelled to the son at the 1:20 mark. He didn't blow off dad, he just kept at the same pace, and that's because he didn't know how to transition with a foe like Ruiz into more of a shark. Ruiz still had legs under him, wasn't sending signals that he was wilting. And Flores saw that, so he kept doing with what he was comfortable with, no more. In round ten, we saw the same amount of moving from Flores, and we also saw him get caught on the ropes, and eat 3/5 of a right cross. Then we saw more moving, because Ruiz knew time was a wasting. They hugged center ring, surprising maybe after a fight that started promisingly early, if you thought maybe you'd see this would be the night Flores stole the show and planted an ‘I'm a frickin' star, world' flag in Ruiz' ass.
He didn't do that, but that's OK.
Patience is not a virtue owned by masses of Americans, but it is in the reservoir of the Top Rank brain trust and matchmaking squad.
This win was solid, and it's no black mark on Flores that we saw he has things to work on. At age 20, 99.9% of pro pugilists do.