GLENDALE, Arizona — Emanuel Navarrete landed the career-defining win he sought earlier this year.
The six-month wait in his rescheduled title fight versus Oscar Valdez proved well worth the wait for the three-division titlist who successfully defended his WBO junior lightweight crown. Judges Zachary Young (116-112), Chris Wilson (118-110) and Lisa Giampa (119-109) all scored wide for Navarrete in their entertaining ESPN-televised main event Saturday evening at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
Valdez was limited to a ringside view for the previously scheduled February 3 date at this very location, when a pre-existing back injury didn’t heal in time for him to challenge for the vacant WBO 130-pound title. Navarrete claimed the belt that night, as he survived his first career knockdown to drop and stop Liam Wilson in the ninth round of their instant classic.
The win saw Navarrete become Mexico’s tenth three-division titlist, but he felt cheated by not being able to accomplish the feat versus Valdez. He had the honor of entering Saturday’s rescheduled affair as the defending titlist but the crowd was pro-Valdez, a two-time Mexican Olympian from Nogales who has childhood roots in Tucson—roughly two hours south of the greater Phoenix area—and was at full strength in a bid to become a two-time junior lightweight titlist.
Navarrete forced an aggressive pace in the opening round as both fought true to form. The 28-year-old from San Juan Zitlaltepec was the far busier fighter, while the more economical Valdez landed at a considerably higher percentage.
Both fighters enjoyed success with their left hook in round two. Valdez connected with a body shot before whipping hook upstairs. Navarrete returned the favor later in the round but fell short with a pair of uppercuts from long range.
Navarrete began to close the gap after previously falling short with power shots from the outside. He was able to time the lateral movement of Valdez and connect with a right hand. Valdez shook off the blow but was caught off guard by the late round offensive success enjoyed by his countryman.
Valdez walked through a pair of right hands to connect with a left hook midway through round five. The announced crowd of 10,246 roared in approval and again when Valdez landed a right hand. Navarrete’s back touched the ropes but the defending titleholder was able to quickly steady himself to avoid further damage.
Another left hook by Valdez caught the attention of Navarrete early in round six. Valdez followed up with a right hand but was wild and well off the mark with a subsequent attempt. Navarrete was able to land a right uppercut on the inside, while Valdez came back with a left hook and right hand both to the body.
Navarrete switched between southpaw and conventional stance early in round seven, though in a clumsy manner and without any real success. He quickly returned to his high-volume form and landed with power shots on the inside. Valdez was able to respond but fell short with a counter hook and overhand right.
Navarrete attempted to keep Valdez at the end of his long right hand in round eight. It worked to the point of Valdez’s offense dulled save for a late surge which produced chants of ‘Os-car!’ from his fervent supporters.
Valdez kept alive the crowd momentum in round nine after a left hook caught the attention of Navarrete. As was the case for much of the night, the best punches from Valdez was drowned out by Navarrete’s greater activity, though largely behind his jab as he managed to injure his right hand.
The start of the tenth round saw Valdez whip a left hook behind Navarrete’s guard. Navarrete continued to pump his jab while throwing the occasional right hand to not let on to the injury. He did so to the tune of 125 punches thrown in the frame. Valdez braved through bruising around the right eye to land a left hook, right hand, left hook combo that briefly wobbled Navarrete in the closing seconds of one of the best rounds of the year.
Valdez just missed with a left hook over the top just before and after Navarrete was able to connect with the same shot in round eleven. Valdez came back with a right hand and another behind Navarrete’s left held high near his face. Valdez came back with a right and rode out a Navarrete combination to connect again just before the bell.
Much of the capacity crowd was on its feet throughout the 12th and final round. Navarrete believed he had the bout’s first and only knockdown but a Valdez trip to the canvas was waved off as a slip. A nearly identical sequence transpired less than a minute later, when Navarrete slopped on the center ring logo and hit the deck. Navarrete let his hands go in the final minute.
Valdez refused to back down, even while fighting through a completely swollen shut right eye from what was believed to be a broken orbital bone. Both fighters connected with heavy shots in the closing seconds before a mid-ring embrace took place between the two warriors at the end of a terrific bout.
Navarrete earned by far the biggest win of his career as he advanced to 38-1 (32KOs). It also extended his current 33-fight win streak which dates back to 2012, when he suffered his lone career defeat in just his fifth pro fight.
The three-division titlist is now 12-0 in title fights spanning three weight divisions, though none more meaningful than what he accomplished on Saturday.
Valdez fell to 31-2 (23KOs) with the second loss in his past three starts. He was a perfect 30-0 before his junior lightweight title reign came to a screeching halt in a lopsided defeat to Shakur Stevenson (20-0, 10KOs) in their WBC/WBO unification bout last April 30 in Las Vegas.
A repeat win over Adam ‘BluNose’ Lopez on May 20 put him back on track to once again enter the title fray but he came up short even with the support of a rabid crowd on hand for Saturday’s all-Mexico civil war.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox