After lasting just five and a half rounds with William Zepeda, Mercito Gesta’s face looked like he’d been clobbered with a baseball bat. His body must have felt like it too, as despite the protests of the courage inside of him to stay on his feet throughout the fight, a feat he accomplished, the moment the fight was waved off, it slumped onto a stool that was hurried over to where he was swaying on the ropes, free from Zepeda’s onslaught for the first time since the opening bell rang.

Once he completed the requisite initial medical examinations and his legs allowed him to stand again, he went over to Zepeda, smiled and said, “I knew I was in trouble in round one.”

To be inside the ring with Zepeda as a professional lightweight boxer is to concede that you’re going to work harder than you will in any other fight. That doesn’t mean there aren’t more difficult fights in the division, there very well may be. But if you qualify maximum difficulty as what is most physically demanding, it’s Zepeda who is going to ask the most out of you. Three fights ago, Zepeda broke CompuBox’s record for punches thrown in a bout by a lightweight, uncorking 1536 shots, as well as the most jabs thrown in a round (89) and overall (787). Statistically speaking, he’s the highest-volume punching lightweight we’ve seen since CompuBox began tabulating punch outputs 38 years ago in 1985 when Livingstone Bramble defeated Ray Mancini. 

“He makes you second guess everything you’re doing,” said JoJo Diaz, who was on the receiving end of Zepeda’s record-breaking output. “You don’t have time to think.”

Prior to facing Zepeda on Saturday night at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, Gesta told members of the media gathered at an open workout that “there is no backing up from William Zepeda.” In other words, if you give up ground and allow him to gather downhill momentum, you’ll be engulfed by an avalanche of punches.

In practice, Gesta found that he had no other choice. A relatively busy fighter himself who averages over 61 punches per round, Gesta was the equivalent of a good singer in a duet with a powerhouse crooner, his work barely detectable even though it was still happening. With Zepeda barreling at him from the opening bell, both hands in perpetual motion, the only way Gesta found he could deliver his punches at all was with his feet planted and his back against the ropes. Anywhere else and he was too busy backpedaling at double speed to throw with any velocity. 

After five rounds, Gesta’s trainer Marvin Somodio was openly discussing stopping the fight, both to his fighter and to DAZN’s ringside reporter Beto Duran. Referee Jack Reiss had the same thoughts, visiting the Gesta corner to express concern and specifically to tell him he had to “get off the ropes,” the exact thing Gesta knew he had to do from the outset, but couldn’t.

Midway through the second round, after another sequence that could have been a replay from nearly any moment from the rest of the fight—Zepeda throwing a dizzying array of punches to the head and body as Gesta tried to block and roll along the ropes—Gesta’s corner had finally seen enough, and the stool was rushed over to him.

Zepeda ended the fight before he could approach the record-breaking overall numbers again, but the statistics from this bout may have been even more staggering. In roughly five and a half rounds, Zepeda threw 618 punches, an average of 103 per round. However, if you remove the “feeling out round” in round one in which Zepeda “only” threw 78 punches, he would have averaged 120 per round. However, the truly jarring stat is that Zepeda landed 286 punches in that timeframe. The third round in particular may be one of the most extraordinary statistical rounds of all-time, as Zepeda connected on 76 of 140 punches, with 69 of them being power shots. 

In this fight, Zepeda took volume punching to a new, video-game-esque level, putting up the kind of volume and connect percentages you might see in early boxing console games like Greatest Heavyweights for SEGA Genesis when the best strategy was to simply mash buttons non-stop because blocking more than one punch at a time was nearly impossible. 

Whereas against Diaz, Zepeda pecked away like a hummingbird with his lead hand at historic rates, against Gesta he traded those jabs for almost exclusively power shots. 

Any time a notably voluminous puncher comes along at the sport’s highest levels, they become an instant curiosity for fans. There is a prevailing opinion that volume and pressure is a cure-all for any style. Ask fans during Floyd Mayweather’s heyday what the best way would have been to beat him, and in all likelihood they would have answered that volume and pressure would have been the path, as if a mere lack of effort was what was preventing his opponents from having success. 

Zepeda finds himself in a division with a variety of well-schooled defensive operators and deft counterpunchers, such as Devin Haney (for now), Gervonta Davis and Shakur Stevenson. Seeing fighters like them try to quell Zepeda’s approach would be a fascinating study in just how slick those fighters are, just how quickly they can both move and think. Zepeda wouldn’t be favored in any of those fights, but he would certainly be the problem requiring solving in those outings—what he would attempt to do is quite clear, and it would be up to the counterpunchers to come up with an answer. 

Historically, fighters who fight like Zepeda—hyperactive, 120-punch per round whirlwinds--have had a ceiling though. Cecilio Espino, who holds the all-time CompuBox record with 637 total connects against Luigi Camputaro in January 1992, fell short in two world title attempts. Troy Dorsey, who landed 620 on Jorge Paez in 1990, won a featherweight title but never successfully ended it. Zack Padilla, maybe the closest stylistic comparison to Zepeda, made several defenses of a super lightweight title, but his hard sparring ways caught up to him as an eye injury sadly ended his career while he was still champion. More recent examples such as Antonio Margarito had lengthier runs of success on top, but his approach found its limits, and when it did, he fizzled quickly. 

Zepeda’s success against the bigger names at 135 is certainly no guarantee, but a certain level of action is. Win or lose, his opponents will know they’re in for something different when round one begins.