Gabriel Flores didn’t know until Thursday morning that he was going to serve as the headline attraction, but did his best to prove he was ready for his close-up.

The unbeaten junior lightweight contender preserved his perfect record, turning away the challenge of Josec Ruiz in their ESPN-televised main event Thursday evening at a crowdless MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.

Scores were unanimous in favor of Flores, a 20-year old Stockton, California native who now lives in Vegas. Judges Patricia Morse Jarman, Dave Morett, Steve Weisfeld each scored the bout 100-89, with Flores earning a 10-8 frame with the bout’s lone knockdown which came in round two.

“Josec Ruiz is a good fighter but he didn’t belong in the ring with me,” Flores told after picking up his second win of 2020. “I should have stopped him but my lower back was killing me! It was an old injury from sparring before my last fight, and I couldn’t throw more than 50% of the punches I wanted to.”

Flores was originally due to serve as the evening’s chief support but received an upgrade after the main event was scrapped due to COVID-19 testing protocol. Mikkel LesPierre was forced off the show after his manager, Jose Taveras tested positive for the infectious disease, thus killing his planned junior welterweight heat with Puerto Rico’s Jose Pedraza.

The elevation to headlining act only prompted Flores to rise to the occasion, fighting with purpose from the opening bell. The rising prospect—who signed with Top Rank at just 16 years of age—worked a heavy jab in the opening round, following with occasional right hands but otherwise controlling the ring and action through subtle movement.

Despite a modest knockout-to-win mark of just 35%, Flores showed flashes of power in round two. A left hook caught the sturdy-chinned Ruiz off guard, with a follow-up right hand sending him to the canvas for the first time in his career. The transplanted Nicaraguan beat the count of referee Tony Weeks but could manage little more than to remain on his feet as Flores continued to own the real estate.

It would be the closest to a power surge that would come of the night. Still, it illustrated Flores’ dominance, outlanding Ruiz 101-55, including having landed 72 power punches over the course of the 10-round affair. 


Flores was fleet of foot in subsequent rounds, pumping his jab when necessary but otherwise forcing Ruiz to come to him. Ruiz enjoyed his best moment of the fight in round four, connecting with a right hand to at least catch the attention of his unbeaten foe although falling to follow up on the moment. Flores made him pay, connecting with left hooks in the final minute of the round.

 Ruiz did his best to make a fight of it in the second half after miserably falling behind early. The 25-year old Nicaraguan inched his way inside on the rare occasions Flores didn’t opt to stick and move. Modest body work came of the exchanges but with the more telling blows still being scored by Flores who connected with jabs and right hands throughout the 6th round.

As it became clear that a stoppage was not going to come of the night, Flores returned to a mobile fighting style down the stretch. Ruiz continued to come forward, if only out of necessity as Flores’ swift footwork allowed him to box from every inch of the ring. What the Nicaraguan lightweight failed to do was cut off the ring, allowing Flores to box from angles and offer constant lateral movement.

Flores didn’t have a crowd to play to—certainly a far cry from pulling in 10,000 fans in his Stockton hometown for an undercard appearance—but decided to showboat for the entertainment of the home viewers.

“I was laser-focused,” Flores insisted to “I love fighting in front of my fans, especially all my fans back home in the 209 (Stockton’s area code). But all I was focused on (Thursday night) was taking care of my opponent.” 

A bolo wind-up opened up the start of round nine, annoying Ruiz to the point of charging inside but not doing much once there. Flores continued to move side-to-side, offering rapid fire combinations before shutting down his offense and sliding out of harm’s way before Ruiz had a chance to respond.

Hopelessly trailing on the scorecards, Ruiz took the fight to Flores to open the 10th and final round. The moment was short-lived, as Flores immediately rediscovered his desired pace in slowing the action to a crawl. An exchange along the ropes saw Ruiz get off three shots midway through the round, The sequence was enough to cause Flores to deliberately run out of harm’s way, spending most of the rest of the frame fighting in reverse and essentially running out the clock.

As that moment came, it resulted in the end of a 16-fight unbeaten streak for Ruiz. The loss marks his first in more than six years. The eight-year pro falls to 21-3-2 (14KOs) as a result.

Flores advances to 18-0 (6KOs) with the win, his second of 2020 and with both having taken place in Las Vegas. The rising prospect scored an eight-round shutout on the undercard of Tyson Fury’s 7th round stoppage of Deontay Wilder in their heavyweight championship rematch this past February at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Despite fighting through a pre-existing injury, the youthful prodigy doesn’t envision a lengthy layoff. With promoter Top Rank serving as the only game in town for the moment, the plan is to take advantage of the fight dates while they are available.

“I see myself returning by August,” Flores believes, though leaving it in the hands of his new manager James Prince, with whom he signed this past May.

Suggestions from the ESPN desk post-fight namedropped Puerto Rico’s Felix Verdejo—’s 2013 Prospect of the Year—as a potential future opponent, whether this summer or down the road. Regardless of who it is, Flores just wants to make sure it’s another step in the right direction.

 “All I want is somebody better than who I fought (on Thursday),” Flores insists. “That’s what I want for every fight, to face better competition as I keep getting better.”  

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox