Emanuel Navarrete survived the first knockdown of his career to join esteemed company among his beloved countrymen.
A wild shootout with Australia’s Liam Wilson saw both fighters hit the deck but with Navarrete left as the last man standing to claim a dramatic, ninth-round stoppage win. Mexico’s Navarrete did so in dramatic fashion, as he was down in round four but rallied back to drop Wilson and eventually force referee Chris Flores to stop the contest at 1:57 of round nine to win the WBO junior lightweight title Friday evening from Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
Navarrete became a three-division titlist in the process, just the tenth fighter from Mexico to accomplish the feat.
“I’m made of strength, power, heart and that Mexican spirit that never lets me down,” Navarrete told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna. “This was an amazing victory. It tested me. I needed to know that I could get off the canvas and come back to win the fight. Now I know that I’m capable of doing that and I was able to do it in great fashion.”
Wilson logged more than 19,000 air miles to prepare for his first career title fight. The 26-year-old from Caboolture, Queensland, Australia immediately answered the call when originally scheduled Oscar Valdez (30-1, 22KOs) was forced to withdraw from the all-Mexico title fight due to a recurring injury that never fully healed.
It took a while for Wilson to truly find his offensive rhythm despite coming in as the naturally bigger fighter, despite the controversy surrounding Thursday’s weigh-in. There was a question of whether Navarrete’s power—which followed him from his WBO junior featherweight title to featherweight where he still holds the WBC belt—would carry the same weight in his junior lightweight debut.
It would eventually prevail, though neither fighter enjoyed a significant advantage in the early rounds.
Wilson found his comfort zone in a big way late in round four. The visiting Aussie spent the entire fight to that point in search of a home for his “left hook from hell.” It found its way to Navarrete’s chin, which left the streaking Mexican on unsteady legs.
Navarrete was forced to the canvas for the first time in his career and unsteady upon rising to his feet. His mouthpiece was dislodged during the sequence, with an abnormally long time granted to recover before action resumed. Wilson continued to apply pressure until the bell, with Navarrete still without his faculties fully intact.
“Liam Wilson is a warrior. He landed a great shot that stunned me,” confessed Navarrete. “I was able to overcome it but it was a little bit intense in my corner. I had to settle them down.
“Once that happened, I was able to get the victory.”
In a moment that he may regret upon reflection, Wilson did not—or could not—capitalize on the sequence in round five. Perhaps there was a part of him that attempted to come to grips with what he thought was a knockout finish in the preceding frame.
“I knocked him down in the fourth round. I believe the count was a bit longer than I thought,” insisted Wilson. “We’ll have to review it and see what people think. He’s a true champion. I feel like I won the fight in that sense. It was like a twenty-second count. We’ll review it and see what happens there.
“But I want to come back. I love fighting, I love the challenges. I’ll fight another champion any day of the week.”
Navarrete landed a right hand early in the frame while he still attempted to regain his legs. Wilson stood directly in front of the two-division champ but was unable to inflict further damage as Navarrete resumed control of the fight by round’s end.
Navarrete was dialed in with his wide right hand, which landed around Wilson’s guard and to the body. His left hook also caused damage but was not enough to force Wilson to back down. It would come back to haunt Navarrete, who was badly hurt late in round six and back down on the canvas though he managed to avoid a knockdown call as Wilson’s forward momentum forced him to fall.
Two-way action in the final minute of round seven drew a rise of the crowd. Navarrete grew increasingly accurate with his body punching attack but ignored his corner’s instruction to refrain from throwing caution to the wind. Wilson made him pay with a right hand in the closing seconds of the round, as he headed back to his corner with blood trickling from his nose.
Navarrete connected with a right hand that caught the chin and the attention of Wilson in round eight. The free-swinging Mexican plowed forward but walked into a Wilson left hook. Both boxers managed to land left hooks to the body, while Navarrete was able to get in one more shot upstairs before the bell.
The ninth round was finally the point where Navarrete surged ahead and never looked back.
A booming right hand by the 28-year-old sent Wilson crashing to the canvas in round nine. He beat the count but was at the mercy of vintage Navarrete, who unmercifully launched a barrage of punches. Wilson tried in vain to survive the onslaught but didn’t have the wherewithal to clinch. A final flurry along the ropes left Wilson unable to defend himself before the fight was properly brought to a halt.
Navarrete landed 152-of 453 total punches (33.6%), compared to 97-of-388 (25%) according to Compubox’s unofficial statistics. The margin grew in the final four rounds, where Navarrete outlanded Wilson 98-37 after being slightly outworked through five rounds.
Wilson fell to 11-2 (7KOs) but certainly gained the respect of first-time observers who perhaps never caught his previous 12 pro bouts exclusively in Australia.
“He’s a tough champion. This is boxing, stuff happens. All credit to him,” admitted Wilson. “I hope he goes on to do great things. I’ll be back, no doubt about it. I’ll put myself right back in it.
“Australia knew and now the world knows, I can fight and will be back. I love these tough fights. It’s who I am.”
Navarrete advanced to 37-1 (31KOs) as he extended his current 32-fight win streak. Included among the run is his eleventh title fight win spanning three weight divisions, as he claimed the WBO title left behind by Shakur Stevenson who was overweight and stripped of the WBO and WBC 130-pound titles ahead of his twelve-round win over Robson Conceicao last September in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey.
A decision will have to be made by Navarrete, who will have ten days to inform the WBO whether he plans to keep the junior lightweight title or resume his featherweight title reign. If the post-fight interview was any indication, the plan will be to stay at the higher weight and revisit plans for a mouthwatering title fight with Valdez, who insisted he is on board.
“We can come back to Arizona and make this fight happen,” Valdez said upon joining Navarrete in the ring. “We want another Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales type fight. I think our styles can make that happen. We can do it here in Arizona or anywhere in the world. Hopefully, we can make it later this year.”
Navarrete is down for that fight or any other that will prove his worth among the sport’s elite. He was well on his way in the infancy of his WBO junior featherweight title reign including back-to-back wins over then-unbeaten Isaac Dogboe. However, his competition level appeared to level off and give way to ring activity before moving up in weight.
It has been a mixed bag at featherweight, as Navarrete has proven to fight up or down to the level of his competition. He struggled to make weight and was outboxed by Eduardo Baez before he scored a one-punch, sixth round knockout in his most recent WBO featherweight title defense last August 20 in San Diego.
A return to featherweight will mean that Navarrete will have to face the winner of the April 1 ESPN headliner between Dogboe and rising contender Robeisy Ramirez, which for now comes with the interim WBO featherweight title at stake. The fight could be for the full title if Navarrete chooses to remain put at his current weight.
“I need these big fights,” insisted Navarrete. “I need to prove to everyone and myself what I’m capable of.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
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