As confident as he is in his own abilities, Emanuel Navarrete envisions having a tougher time with Joet Gonzalez than Gonzalez gave Shakur Stevenson in their WBO featherweight title fight.
Gonzalez was undefeated at that time, but he won only one round on each scorecard the night nearly two years ago that he and Stevenson fought for the then-vacant WBO 126-pound champion in a 12-rounder. Most handicappers have made Navarrete as at least a 4-1 favorite versus Gonzalez, but Navarrete anticipates a stiff test from his mandatory challenger Friday night in San Diego.
“I think he’s gonna be a different fighter in this fight because Shakur’s style wasn’t good for him,” Navarrete told BoxingScene.com. “This time around, I’m gonna come forward and I believe he’s gonna come forward, too. So, that’s what I’m expecting.
“I expect a tougher fight, a more competitive fight, a more exciting fight because with Shakur, with all due respect, I don’t like the way Shakur fights. I don’t like his style because he doesn’t present any fight at all. But I respect him and I understand why he fights like that.”
The unbeaten Stevenson is a skillful southpaw whose defense and movement have helped him compile a 16-0 record and an opportunity October 23 to become a two-weight world champion against WBO junior lightweight titleholder Jamel Herring (23-2, 11 KOs) at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. The rugged Navarrete (34-1, 29 KOs) doesn’t at all resemble Stevenson stylistically, which should lead to more action against Gonzalez (24-1, 14 KOs) in the 12-round main event of a seven-fight card ESPN+ will stream from Pechanga Arena (8:30 p.m. EDT; 5:30 PDT).
The Mexican champion figures he’ll encounter the best version of Gonzalez because the 28-year-old contender from Glendora, California, cannot expect another title shot in the foreseeable future if he loses to Navarrete less than two years after Stevenson defeated him by unanimous decision at Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nevada.
“I know he’s gonna come strong because, you know, this is his second world-title opportunity and it likely will be his last one,” Navarrete said. “So, I know that he has put in the hard work and he’s gonna be giving it his all, 100 percent, in the ring. I don’t expect nothing less from him.”
The 26-year-old Navarrete has won seven of his past eight bouts by knockout or technical knockout. He wants to extend his overall winning streak to 30 by becoming the first fighter to stop Gonzalez inside the distance.
Navarrete impressively stopped Puerto Rico’s Christopher Diaz (26-3, 16 KOs) in the 12th round of his most recent bout, which took place April 24 at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida.
“Every single time that I get in the ring, I’m always looking for the knockout,” Navarrete said. “And this time around will not be the exception. You know, I respect Joet a lot. He’s a great fighter, but I’m definitely gonna go for the knockout. Knowing that he’s never been knocked out, that would give me great satisfaction.”
While fully focused on Gonzalez, Navarrete wants a featherweight title unification fight early in 2022.
“I believe it can be done,” Navarrete said. “I see that the opportunities are there. But right now, I’m just focused on Joet Gonzalez.”
If he successfully defends his title for the second time against Gonzalez, Navarrete can turn his attention toward Gary Russell Jr., Kid Galahad and Leigh Wood.
Russell (31-1, 18 KOs), an American southpaw who owns the WBC featherweight title, is the longest-reigning champion in boxing.
England’s Galahad (28-1, 17 KOs) holds the IBF 126-pound crown. England’s Wood (25-2, 15 KOs) won the secondary WBA belt from China’s Can Xu (18-3, 3 KOs), who Wood stopped in the 12th round of their July 31 bout at Matchroom Boxing’s headquarters in Brentwood, England.
“I would go with the first one that raises his hand and would like to face me,” Navarrete said. “I don’t have a clear option, but the easiest route to unify the titles, I would go that way.”
Unfortunately for Navarrete, Russell, Galahad and Wood all are affiliated with different promoters and television networks/streaming services than him. That could complicate the former WBO junior featherweight champ’s plan to unify titles within the 126-pound division.
“If for some reason I can’t get the unification fights at 126, I would consider moving up to 130,” Navarrete said. “But I would only do it for the big fights, for the bigger names and the bigger purses.”
A fight with WBC junior lightweight champ Oscar Valdez would be easier to make than the aforementioned title unification bouts because, like Navarrete, Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs) is promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc.
“That would be a big fight and I’m looking for the big fights,” Navarrete said. “But in all fairness, I haven’t heard anything about that fight from my team. The only thing I’ve heard is speculation from the media. But I would love to do a fight like that. I think his style and my style mesh very well and we could do one of those Mexican versus Mexican rivalries, something like Barrera and Morales.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.