It’s been longer than expected for Emanuel Navarrete to make his way back to the ring.

At the very least, he appreciates that his first fight in ten months comes in a familiar place.

The two-division and reigning WBO featherweight titlist from San Juan Zitlaltepec, Mexico attempts his third defense against Mexicali’s Eduardo Baez (21-2-2, 7KOs) this Saturday on ESPN from Pechanga Arena in San Diego. The same venue hosted his previous outing, an entertaining but one-sided win over Joet Gonzalez last October.  

“It feels good to be back here. It’s my second straight fight at this location,” Navarrete told “We had a great turnout the last time when I fought Joet Gonzalez and it seems like the fans really like me in San Diego.

“Baez lives close to the border. He will be bringing his own fan base to the arena, so I expect a really great turnout and a lot of love being shown to both of us. I think it will be a special night on Saturday.”

Ticket sales indicate that the scaled down venue should be close to sold out by the opening bell, as Navarrete (35-1, 29KOs) continues to develop his fan base in the heart of his fighting prime. His featherweight title win over Ruben Villa came behind closed doors at MGM Grand Conference Center, the Las Vegas bubble established by co-promoter Top Rank during the pandemic. Navarrete made his first defense in a twelfth-round stoppage of Puerto Rican contender Christopher Diaz last April in Boricua-heavy populated Kissimmee, Florida.

The return west to face Gonzalez last October was his first taste of a supporting crowd, although there is a chance of walking into a few boos on Saturday. The bout takes place roughly 2 ½ hours from Baez’s Mexicali hometown, though who draws the cheers before the fight is less concerning than the challenge awaiting Navarrete once the bell sounds for their televised main event.

“A lot of people overlook Eduardo Baez but I don’t, not at all,” insisted Navarrete of what to expect in his tenth career title fight. “I believe that Baez is very strong. He can take a lot of punishment and give it out as well. I take him very seriously and am completely focused on this fight.

“This training camp was spent leaving no stone unturned so that there aren’t any surprises when I enter the ring. I think it will be easier for me only that he will be right there in front of me. But then again, how do you put away a guy who can take that punishment and never breaks? That is what we’ve worked on and plan to figure out.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox