It wasn’t a bout for a world title, but it was probably the most important fight for 19-year-old Gabe Flores Jr.
The fledging pro boxer thrilled a heavily partisan crowd of 10,105 at Stockton Arena on May 4 with a third-round knockout of veteran Eduardo Pereira.
“It was amazing. This is where I was born and raised,” said Flores, who improved to 13-0 (six knockouts) as a lightweight. “This is what I worked for. A lot of people came out. I am Stockton’s king.”
Boxing royalty brought out the loyalty of the 209 area code, as the crowd continuously yelled “209! 209!) throughout the scheduled 6-round bout.
The Flores-Pereira bout was sandwiched around IBF world title bouts, but a big chunk of the crowd drained away following the Flores victory.
“That was the main event!” said a couple as they walked to their car from the waterfront.
Flores, who signed a professional contract with Top Rank as a 16-year-old student at César Chávez High School, dominated the ESPN-televised bout from the start. Before answering the bell for the second round, Flores hopped from one leg to the other in anticipation.
The 29-year-old Pereira, now 23-6 (19 KOs), provided Flores with his most experienced opponent. However, that mattered little to Flores as his quickness and left kept the Brazilian opponent off balanced.
At 1 minute, 14 seconds into the third round, Flores rocked Pereira with a left. Flore glared down at the fallen Pereira before running to the far corner while referee Marcos Rosales signaled the end of the bout.
It was the perfect ending for Flores in his hometown debut as a professional. He fought in Nevada and other places before he became eligible to fight in California when he turned 18. Flores had a couple of fights in Fresno.
The home crowd spurred him.
“I felt like a little, inside the locker room, weird. Shaking, not nervous. Fifteen minutes of being in the locker room, it went away,” said Flores after the bout. “I felt so much alive, so much faster. I felt stronger.”
On his walk to the ring, things changed.
“Walking to the ring and hearing all those people yell made me feel even more faster, even more stronger,” he said. “I felt all their energy inside me. I saw a packed crowd. This is what a world title bout looks like right here!”
Flores doubts many boxers have had such support in their 13th professional bout.
“This fight is a like a title fight. I was comfortable in my own city. When I’m comfortable, there’s no stopping me,” said Flores, who believes his next fight will be outside of Stockton.
As to Pereira’s power, Flores said he felt nothing.
“I wanted to feel something; I wanted him to hit my glove or something so that I could feel his power,” said Flores. “I felt nothing.”
Flores, who carried his younger brother inside the ring following the win, dedicated the fight to his mother, Juanita Maldonado, who was killed in a shooting when he was 12.
It was a split decision for the other two Stockton fighters that night.
Middleweight Quilisto Madera scored a unanimous, six-round decision over Osbaldo González of Oklahoma. Madera improved to 12-2.
Marcos Arroyo couldn’t rebound from a second-round knockdown and lost a four-round split decision to Jesús Godínez of Oxnard. Arroyo dropped to 2-1.