Offensive juggernaut Emanuel Navarrete and the hardnosed Joet Gonzalez promised to destroy each other in a war during their pre-fight buildup, and they did just that on Friday night.
It was the powerful, aggressive, more active and experienced champion Navarrete who soldiered through and proved to be the stronger warrior in a seesaw slugfest between Mexican boxers.
Navarrete (35-1, 29 KOs) was awarded scores of 118-110, 116-112 and 116-112 against Gonzalez (24-2, 14 KOs) to win a unanimous decision and retain his WBO featherweight title. The fight headlined an ESPN+ card at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego.
Navarrete again delivered his usual impressive punch output, connecting on 272 (204 power) of his 979 punches, an average of 82 punches per round. Gonzalez countered with 169 of 667.
“It was a very close fight but I think the difference between us was conditioning,” Navarrete said in his post-fight interview. “I hurt him, but every single time he came back. He also hurt me with a couple of shots that he landed during the fight.”
The first round started at a feverish pace that would set the tone for the firefight, and by the second, Navarrete was first to draw blood as a small cut and swelling appeared under the right eye of Gonzalez. The first two rounds were close, with Navarrete landing 22 punches compared to 19 by Gonzalez.
The betting favorite Navarrete got into a groove by the third and showed off his offensive firepower with a fierce combination that further busted Gonzalez’s cut wide open. Gonzalez was brave and undeterred however and kept charging forward and firing back with timely punches as well.
Gonzalez cutman Mike Bazzel expressed to ESPN’s Mark Kriegel during round four that he was concerned with Gonzalez swelling of the eye. Meanwhile, a relentless Navarrete kept smashing Gonzalez. Gonzalez rebounded remarkably in the final 30 seconds of the round with a flush right hand to the chin that staggered Navarrete.
Sensing urgency, Gonzalez started the fifth trying to carry the momentum but Navarrete kept firing looping and digging lefts and rights with his unconventional fighting style. He even momentarily turned southpaw. The two fighters also clashed heads, drawing a complaint from Navarrete.
Through five close rounds, nearly 600 combined punches were thrown, with Navarrete landing 75 to Gonzalez’s 59. Navarrete nearly threw 100 more punches as well until that point.
Navarrete’s sheer volume of punches continued into the sixth, and Gonzalez’s best form of defense had to be his offense. Navarrete connected on 27 of 90 punches compared to 15 of 53 by Gonzalez in the round.
In the seventh, the hardnosed Gonzalez momentarily caught Navarrete in the corner with a combination but was not able to sustain the offense as Navarrete quickly sneaked out.
In round eight, Gonzalez stepped on Navarrete’s foot and caused him to drop to the canvas. Gonzalez then was warned by referee Ray Corona for a low blow. After the sloppy first two minutes, the final 30 seconds were thoroughly entertaining, as both fighters violently swung at each other.
The thrilling back and forth battle carried in the ninth round and tenth rounds as both fighters tried to impose their will on each other. Gonzalez hit Navarrete with another low blow that floored Navarrete but Corona told Navarrete to get up and fight and did not ask if he needed the maximum allotted time of five minutes to recover.
Gonzalez stepped on Navarrete’s foot again in the eleventh and simultaneously landed a left hook that floored Navarrete. Corona ruled the sequence a slip.
“I thought I had it seven rounds to five, eight rounds to four. I was really surprised by that score of 118-110, I believe. But it is what it is, and I did my best.”
The twelfth and final round ended just as it started, with both fighters violently trading punches. Navarrete (104) and Gonzalez (79) threw fight highs in the round.
The tattered Gonzalez was carried on the shoulders of his corner, but Navarrete was the ultimate victor.
“I thought I had it seven rounds to five, eight rounds to four,'" said Gonzalez. "I was really surprised by that score of 118-110, I believe. But it is what it is, and I did my best.”
Navarrete, a former world titlist at 122 pounds, was making the second defense of his 126-pound title and ninth world title defense overall. He was coming off a dominant 12th round TKO of Christopher Diaz in April.
“It has been an exciting ride so far, and from now on I want the bigger fights,” said Navarrete. “Without a doubt, I would give Gonzalez a rematch as well.”
Gonzalez was challenging for a world title for the second time. He lost a landslide decision to Shakur Stevenson in October 2019, who held Navarrete’s same 126-pound WBO title.
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist, writer and broadcast reporter. He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and MMA Journalists Association. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan, via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com or on www.ManoukAkopyan.com