Mike CoppingerESPN4 minutes to read
Glendale, Arizona. – Emmanuel Navarrete plied his trademark punches from bewildering angles, while Oscar Valdez, his oddly bulging right eye, searched for a fight-changing left hook.
That counterpunch landed several times during the 130-pound title fight between the two Mexican boxers Saturday night, but the shots didn’t force Navarrete to waver. The oversized Navarrete delivered four, five and six punches while Valdez stood his ground in the gunfight.
In an all-out sluggish race on ESPN, Navarrete (38-1, 31 KOs) retained his WBO junior lightweight title via unanimous decision by scores of 116-112, 118-110 and 119-109. ESPN scored it 116-112.
“I feel so happy to be part of this…the next great chapter in Mexican boxing history,” Navarrete, 28, said through an interpreter. “I’m happy and I appreciate Oscar for the great fight we put in.”
“Thank God, I won,” he added. “I appreciate what he’s done in the ring. He’s a Mexican warrior. If people want a rematch, they’ll demand it.”
Round after round, Navarrete fired punches from awkward angles and rarely put his feet up. He unleashed left and right hand piercing paths while in constant motion. He scored an amazing 1,038 punches in the fight, more than double the output of Valdez, who only threw 436.
Valdez (31-2, 23 KOs) was content to move on and swap with Navarrete, a strategy that rarely works. When he took a step back, he often missed home run swings. However, he connected more often with his left hook, the same shot that brutally knocked out Miguel Berchelt in 2021 to win the WBC junior lightweight title.
When Valdez dug Navarrete with a left counter hook in the second round and the champion did not budge much, it was clear that trouble awaited the challenger.
Slowly but surely, Valdez’s right eye closed and turned purple under duress from Navarrete’s punishing attack. Even when Navarrete pointed out that he had injured his right hand late in the fight, he continued to throw with his strong hand.
“It was a little sore on my right hand,” Navarrete said. “But the more I hit her, the stronger she got. But I had to beat her.”
Navarrete entered the fight as ESPN’s runner-up at junior lightweight after he defeated Australian Liam Wilson to win the vacant title in February. Wilson stepped in six months earlier to replace Valdez, who had been injured, and almost worked it out. Wilson scored a fourth-round knockdown of Navarrete’s 130-pound debut, but Navarrete rose to block him in the ninth round.
On Saturday night, Navarrete scored not only his second win at 130 pounds but the biggest win of his career.
“He’s a warrior,” said Valdez, who lived in Tucson, Arizona, during parts of his childhood. “I did my best. We did our best. He’s a warrior. He’s a true hero.”
“I’m sorry I disappointed everyone,” Valdez added. “I feel terrible. I wanted to give you all a great fight. I hope you enjoyed the fight. I hope to come back strong.”
Two-time Olympian Valdez, 32, appeared, his face badly bruised and swollen, the result of Navarrete’s low-key shots. Of course, he is no stranger to fighting in difficult conditions.
In a 2018 Featherweight title defense against Scott Quigg, Valdez struggled through a broken jaw to win the decision. His jaw was then closed.
He has stuttered many times in his career but has always come back to win outside of his fight last year against pound-winning talent Shakur Stephenson. And now, for the second time in three rounds, Valdez will be looking to bounce back.
Meanwhile, Navarrete seems to be getting better with each fight and each new weight class. He debuted in 2012 at £112 and won his first title in 2018 when he beat Isaac Dogboe. He then turned back Dogboe in his rematch before making four more defenses of the junior featherweight against limited opposition.
At 126 pounds, Navarrete defeated Ruben Villa in 2020 to claim the vacant title and went on to rack up more impressive victories against quality opponents, including victories over Guet Gonzalez and Eduardo Paez.
He defeated ESPN’s top rated boxer at 130 pounds and was once again able to beat his opponent not just in size but in bruising power.
Navarrete, a champion at the top of his weight class who consistently delivers action fights – and another in a long line of gritty fighters from Mexico – will continue to be in demand.
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