Emanuel Navarrete survived a spirited challenge and partisan crowd to extend his second divisional title reign.
Christopher ‘Pitufo’ Diaz showed plenty of fighting heart but was ultimately outgunned by Mexico’s Navarrete, who scored a 12th round stoppage to defend his WBO featherweight title Saturday evening at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida.
Navarrete scored four knockdowns on the night, the last of which subsequently prompted a stoppage at 2:49 of the 12th and final round in their ESPN-televised main event.
Navarrete spent most of the opening round cutting off the ring and keeping Diaz in his desired punching range, looking to avoid the possibility of his challenger turning a fight into a boxing match. Diaz—based out of Orlando by way of Barranquitas, Puerto Rico—didn’t land much of substance or really attempt to, throwing just 37 punches and often falling well short. Navarrete constantly circled to Diaz’s right, shooting his jab and occasionally connecting with his straight right hand.
The left hook began to develop for Navarrete in round two, following his jab with shots upstairs and to the body from odd angles. Diaz spent most of the round offering constant movement, proving to be a sound tactic. Navarrete attempted another left hook later in the round, missing badly and leaving himself open long enough for Diaz to counter with a right hand, drawing raucous cheers from the sellout crowd of 3,262 in attendance.
Navarrete found his rhythm in round three. Diaz remained mobile, though quickly ran out of space in the 18x18 ring as the defending titlist mounted his attack. Navarrete more than tripled Diaz in punches landed, though only planting the seed for more to come.
Diaz hit the canvas hard in round four, courtesy of a long left uppercut that Navarrete appeared to throw from his hometown of San Juan Zitlaltepec, Mexico. Diaz beat the count and spent the rest of the round regaining his bearings.
A brief shift in momentum was enjoyed by Diaz late in round five. Navarrete threatened to pull away, only for the two-time title challenger to surge courtesy of a three-punch combination. Navarrete took the shots well but was forced to fend off a dedicated body attack from Diaz that spilled over into round six.
Diaz continued to target the midsection of Navarrete, as well as catching the defending titlist below the belt and behind his back in a round where he landed a fight-best 14 punches. He was warned by referee Samuel Burgos for the assortment of infractions, though the look of frustration was evident on Navarrete’s face.
Both boxers had their say in a spirited round seven. Diaz was keeping pace with the normally relentless Navarrete, though he had to contend with a point deduction after once again catching Navarrete with a punch behind the back.
Navarrete nearly closed the show in round eight, scoring two more knockdowns. Diaz was floored just before the final minute of the round, though observant as he took the mandatory eight count. Navarrete picked up the pace, catching Diaz clean with a combination to bust open a cut under his left eye and will him to the canvas for the third time in the fight.
Diaz didn’t let the near-disastrous round dampen his enthusiasm. The local favorite virtually matched Navarrete’s punch output in round nine while rediscovering his rhythm. Navarrete remained a step ahead, save for a combination which left him off balance in essentially sending himself to the canvas.
Navarrete opened the championship rounds with a rapid-fire combination, drawing blood from the nose of Diaz who was game but increasingly outclassed. Navarrete connected with a right hand upstairs, which Diaz took well but to which he couldn’t offer the type of response to keep his foe at bay.
The message was clear in the Diaz corner in between rounds—it was going to take a knockout to win the fight. Diaz did his best to deliver on that demand, letting his hands go at the start of the 12th and final round. Navarrete looked to go punch for punch with the challenger but was caught with a right hand along the ropes. Diaz waded through an exchange to land another head snapping right hand midway through the round.
Navarrete wasn’t done yet, though.
Diaz saw his momentum stalled after losing his mouthpiece. A brief lull following an intense exchange prompted the referee to call time to reinsert the gumshield, though Diaz could never get back into his rhythm. Navarrete went on the attack, rocking Diaz with a combination before sending him to the canvas inside the final 30 seconds of the contest.
To his credit, Diaz willed himself off of the deck in his best effort to continue. There was a brief moment of consideration to allow it to proceed, only for Diaz’s head trainer Nelson Rodriguez requesting that his fighter be spared of any additional punishment.
Overall, Navarrete outlanded Diaz 257-to-183, including a 241-to-171 edge in power punches. Navarrete landed 35% of his total punches (257-of-744) compared to 26% for Diaz (183-of-706). The two-division and reigning featherweight titlist landed 42% of his power punches (241-of-574), while Diaz was 171-of-526 (33%) in that category.
The spirited effort ends in despair for Diaz, who fails to 26-3 (16KOs) and is now 0-2 in title fights. The valiant Boricua came up short in a WBO junior lightweight title bid, dropping a 12-round decision to Masayuki Ito in July 2018 at nearby Kissimmee Civic Center.
Navarrete improves to 34-1 (29KOs) with the win, making the first defense of his WBO featherweight title which he claimed in a 12-round decision win over previously unbeaten Ruben Villa last October in Las Vegas. Navarrete previously held the WBO junior featherweight belt, which he defended five times in a nine-month span before moving up in weight last summer.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox