Emanuel Navarrete didn’t have the high profile that his opponent, Oscar Valdez, enjoyed on Saturday in their fight for the WBO super featherweight title at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
He left with the belt, the biggest win of his career and a much-improved reputation after a unanimous decision over former champion Valdez. Judges scored it 116-112, 118-110 and 119-109 for Navarrete, who won the fight by turning up the pressure.
Not even an injured, possibly broken hand could slow him down. He landed a total of 72 power punches in the first seven rounds, according to CompuBox, but connected to 104 in the last five.
He hurt Valdez and commanded his respect early in the fight. Valdez was staggered several times in the early rounds and dug himself a hole.
Billed as the “Battle of Mexico”, Top Rank brought in legendary Hall of Famers Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera to join the festivities. Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., the greatest Mexican-born boxer ever, was working on a Spanish-language TV broadcast.
The fight came nowhere near the brilliance of the three Barrera-Morales fights, which remain among the greatest of this century. However, it was still an exciting and dramatic match where every man poured his heart out and had to overcome serious adversity at one point.
“I want to thank everyone who was here to watch, because you witnessed the next chapter in the great Mexican rivalry,” Navarrete said in the ring afterwards. “I also want to thank Oscar because he came out and gave his whole heart. We did everything we promised.”
Valdez’s right eye was a grotesque mess midway through the fight and it was so bad during the last three rounds that one wondered why the referee didn’t consider stopping the fight. Valdez made Navarrete miss, but true to his style, Navarrete was just a workhorse.
In a fight at this level, it’s often the fighter with the highest connect percentage that wins, and Valdez landed 32 percent of his blows, compared to just 21 percent for Navarrete. But Navarrete threw a whopping 1,038 punches, 602 more than Valdez. He made 216 shots, 76 more than Valdez.
He usually did it with the jab, sometimes out of plan and often out of necessity. His jab ripped Valdez apart and kept him within reach for Navarrete to land his right hand. When the right was so sore that Navarrete went one round without using it, it was the jab that carried him.
Valdez simply couldn’t put together enough for the final rounds to mean anything. Navarrete just outsmarted him all along. He was smart when needed and tenacious for most of the match and it was a recipe for a solid win.
Knowing he hadn’t won, Valdez hugged Navarrete in the middle of the ring while Navarrete was being interviewed by ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna.
“He’s a warrior,” Valdez mourned in perhaps the best tribute he could pay his conqueror. “I tried. I did my best. We did our best and that’s all I can say. I wasn’t about to give up, but I’m sorry to disappoint everyone who came here to support me.”
Navarrete is 38-1 and has won 34 games in a row. While both sides tossed around the idea of a rematch, it’s not really necessary. It was a one sided fight and Valdez needs to get back to the gym and work on some of the issues that plagued him.
It only goes further and higher for Navarrete, who is just one of nine Mexican-born boxers to hold major world titles in three or more weight divisions. The lightweight division is stacked, but if Navarrete decides to move up the ranks, he’ll add another entertaining fighter and legitimate threat there.
Whichever he chooses, he will carry a much greater reputation into his next fight given the way he handled a very good opponent in Valdez.