What’s next for Gabriel Flores Jr.? Is he ready for a title shot?

While Thursday night’s Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card lost its main event on the day the bout was scheduled to take place, the show must go on. Gabriel Flores Jr. stepped into the spotlight and successfully maintained his unblemished record, pushing it to 18-0.

The 20-year-old lightweight prospect continues to rise through the ranks, and despite failing to finish Josec Ruiz, Flores thoroughly dominated every round and won by a 100-89 score on all three judges’ scorecards.

Flores needs to step up in competition, but how high up the ranks can he reach? Steve Kim and Ben Baby are here to break down Flores’ future prospects and the highlights from the rest of the action in Las Vegas.

Who should Gabriel Flores fight next? Should he focus on a title shot?

Gabriel Flores Jr. stayed unbeaten with a unanimous decision victory over Josec Ruiz on Thursday. Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Kim: He’s a talented young boxer, but he’s miles away from a title shot. Tonight was his first 10-round fight, and while he got off to a blazing start by sending Ruiz to the canvas in the second round, he also showed in the second half of the bout that he still needs a good deal of seasoning. To be fair, he did say he came into this bout with a lower back injury. But again, he’s just 20 years old, he still needs to gain his “man strength” and eventually become a more authoritative puncher, if not a devastating one, especially in a division packed with talent.

You wonder if he’ll make his first title run at 130 or 135. For this bout he weighed right in the middle at 132.5 pounds. Top Rank has never rushed prospects, and they wont start with Flores. They understand what they have, but two names that come to mind that can gauge where Flores really is at this time in his career are Andy Vences and Albert Bell. Both are solid veterans and not great punchers that could help answer certain questions about Flores.

Baby: It might be a little early to put Flores in the ring against a legitimate champion. But it’s clear he’s ready to face better competition.

Flores (18-0, 6 KOs) dominated Josec Ruiz (21-3-3, 14 KOs), who couldn’t cut off the ring or even keep Flores in front of him long enough to land a punch of consequence. Flores was nonplussed as he coasted to the victory that will boost his stock as a rising prospect.

Alex Saucedo (29-1, 19 KOs) could be a good prospect for Flores at some point. Saucedo, another Top Rank fighter who is scheduled to fight in “The Bubble” on June 30, briefly held the WBO junior welterweight title before losing to Maurice Hooker by seventh-round TKO in 2018. If Flores looks good against someone of Saucedo’s caliber, then it might be time to challenge for a belt.

Is Flores as good as he showed tonight?

Kim: Keep this in mind — Flores was the youngest prospect ever signed by Top Rank back in 2017. This was always going to be a long range project. And the reality is that all fighters mature differently. Just looking at his body, you can tell he still needs to develop. In what is a very prudent move, Gabriel Jr’s father made the decision to move from Stockton — where his son was the proverbial big fish in a small pond — to the more fertile ground of Las Vegas, where quality work is more readily available.

If and when Flores can get a bit stronger, and then layer his attack with more work inside the pocket in the second half of fights, he’s going to be a difficult fighter to beat.

Baby: As with a lot of the early Top Rank cards, it’s difficult to discern how good some of these prospects actually are. While Flores looked dominant, he was going up against a fighter with a relatively padded record. Ruiz’s most recent opponent before Flores suffered his 26th career loss against Ruiz.

However, Flores showed some things that indicate he could be ready for a step up. He did a good job of creating space on the outside for his long punches and did a good job of moving around the ring to keep Ruiz from settling down. When Flores dropped Ruiz in the second round with a left hook, he feinted and took a step back before unleashing the punch that hurt Ruiz.

Flores could have raised his stock with a stoppage, something he hasn’t had in six fights. But it’s not worth pressing for a knockout and getting caught with a punch he doesn’t need to take, especially at this point in his career.

Who impressed you the most from the undercard?

Kim: Clay Colllard. He decisively beat David Kaminsky in a fight that wasn’t anything close to the split decision it was scored as. Collard isn’t a pure boxer, but rather more of an MMA guy who has proven to be a real gatekeeper of sorts for young prospects. This is the third consecutive victory for Collard over an undefeated boxer. First he defeated Quashawn Toler (who was 9-0), then Raymond Guajardo (5-0) and now Kaminsky, who came into Thursday night with a mark of 6-0.

There is nothing particularly stylish or elegant about Collard — he’s just tough and rugged, and certainly not afraid to mix it up. He makes up for a lack of perfect fundamentals with sheer activity with both hands, and isn’t easily dissuaded. Kaminsky landed some solid shots on Collard, who just merely fought back, and then consistently backed up Kaminsky, whose face was a crimson mask by the end of the night. Matchmakers and managers beware of Collard — you better have a real blue chip prospect, like a Bektemir Melikuziev (who got Collard out of there in four rounds last November) or that ‘0’ will be gone from your boxer’s record.

Baby: Give me Robert Rodriguez (8-0-1, 4 KOs). The San Antonio product had a two-pound weight advantage over Adrian Servin at Wednesday’s weigh-in, but he did a great job of hurting Servin (9-1, 3 KOs) and then stepping on the pedal to get a second-round stoppage.

Rodriguez is trained by none other than Robert Garcia, one of boxing’s top cornermen. He could be a prospect to watch as he continues to gain experience.

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