Emanuel Navarrete is certain he already has beaten an opponent better than Ruben Villa twice.

The former WBO junior featherweight champion considers Villa “a slick boxer,” but Navarette believes Isaac Dogboe is a much better fighter than his upcoming opponent. Mexico’s Navarrete (32-1, 28 KOs) and Villa (18-0, 5 KOs), of Salinas, California, will fight Friday night for the vacant WBO featherweight title in a main event ESPN will air from MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.

“I can’t compare [Dogboe and Villa] because the only thing that I will give Villa is he had a good amateur career, a good amateur background,” Navarrete told BoxingScene.com through a translator. “But other than that, I don’t see anything special in him. Dogboe is a way better fighter, I think, because Dogboe is a boxer, he’s also very fast and he sustained a lot of punishment. He also has power in both hands. I definitely think Dogboe is a better fighter than Villa.”

Navarette defeated Dogboe (21-2, 15 KOs) by unanimous decision in their first fight, a 12-rounder in December 2018 at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater in New York. He stopped Ghana’s Dogboe in the 12th round of their immediate rematch for the WBO 122-pound championship Navarrete won from him five months earlier in May 2019 at the Tucson Convention Center in Tucson, Arizona.

The 25-year-old Navarrete gave up his WBO junior featherweight title late this spring to move up to the featherweight division. In accordance with that sanctioning organization’s rules, the WBO immediately made him its number one contender at featherweight because he was its champion in the division beneath featherweight when he moved up.

The WBO initially ordered a bout between Navarrete and Las Vegas’ Jessie Magdaleno (28-1, 18 KOs), the WBO’s third-rated 126-pound contender, for the unclaimed championship Shakur Stevenson vacated when Stevenson (14-0, 8 KOs) decided to remain in the junior lightweight division over the summer. Magdaleno turned down a fight versus Navarrete because he felt he wasn’t offered enough money by his promoter, Top Rank, which won the purse bid for the Navarrete-Magdaleno bout.

The 23-year-old Villa, who is ranked second by the WBO, gladly accepted this title fight against Navarrete once Magdaleno walked away from it.

“Villa is a slick boxer that likes to move around a lot,” Navarrete said. “The way I think that I’m gonna beat him is being very aggressive, as I always am, pressuring him and closing spaces as much as possible. I won’t give him a lot of space to move around. I’ll be as aggressive as always early in the fight, from the first round. If the knockout happens, it happens, because I’m looking for it. But I’m also ready to go the distance if necessary.”

ESPN will televise Navarrete-Villa after a 10-round middleweight bout between Kazakhstan’s Janibek Alimkhanuly (8-0, 4 KOs) and Argentina’s Gonzalo Coria (16-3, 6 KOs), which will begin the network’s coverage at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT. The Navarrete-Villa undercard will start streaming on ESPN+ at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT. 

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.