Emanuel Navarrete thinks he’ll encounter a cautious Christopher Diaz on Saturday night.
Eventually, though, the defending WBO featherweight champion is confident Diaz will succumb to trying to satisfy an arena full of proud Puerto Rican boxing fans in Kissimmee, Florida. That’s when Navarrete envisions a typical brawl between a Mexican and a Puerto Rican developing in the main event of an ESPN doubleheader that also will showcase super middleweight knockout artist Edgar Berlanga.
“I think for us to leave our names in the wars between Mexico and Puerto Rico, it’s gonna depend on what ‘Pitufo’ does on fight night,” Navarrete said during a conference call Tuesday, when he referred to Diaz by his nickname. “For us to give the fans a great war, he’s gonna have to do what I like to do, which is go toe-to-toe, exchange punches.
“But if he feels like he’s gonna have the advantage just moving around, I also have the reach advantage. So, I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem for me, either. I also think that we’re gonna be in front of his fans, so if he wants to give the fans a good fight, at one moment during the fight he’s gonna have to stop and trade punches with me.”
Boxing Mexico’s Navarrete (33-1, 28 KOs) would be the safer strategy for Puerto Rico’s Diaz (26-2, 16 KOs), who paid the price when he brawled with Masayuki Ito in Diaz’s last title fight. Japan’s Ito dropped Diaz in the fourth round and won by big margins on all three scorecards (118-109, 117-110, 116-111) to capture the then-unclaimed WBO junior lightweight title in July 2018.
Diaz’s defeat to Ito also took place in Kissimmee, where a COVID-restricted capacity crowd of approximately 3,500 will fill Silver Spurs Arena on Saturday night. The 26-year-old Diaz moved down from the 130-pound division to featherweight following his loss to Ito (26-3-1, 14 KOs).
Two fights after Ito defeated Diaz, former WBO featherweight champ Shakur Stevenson (15-0, 8 KOs) out-boxed Diaz and won a 10-round unanimous decision in April 2019 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Diaz has won back-to-back bouts since Stevenson beat him, including a 10-round, unanimous-decision victory over Jason Sanchez (15-3, 8 KOs) in his last fight, June 23 at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
“I believe he’s just gonna move around, but I’m here to pressure him and get this win,” Navarrete said. “I prefer to go toe-to-toe and exchange punches. I have the style to make a good fight. It’s gonna be a war. That’s what I’m looking for. But that’s why I say that he’s gonna try to move around and run.”
The 26-year-old Navarrete dropped mandatory challenger Ruben Villa (18-1, 5 KOs) twice during his most recent bout and won the then-vacant WBO 126-pound championship by unanimous decision October 9 at MGM Grand Conference Center. That marked Navarrete’s second fight since he relinquished the WBO junior featherweight title to move up to the featherweight division.
In Diaz, Navarrete will make his first title defense against the WBO’s sixth-ranked contender.
ESPN’s two-bout broadcast is scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. ET with Brooklyn’s Berlanga (16-0, 16 KOs) against Demond Nicholson (23-3-1, 20 KOs) in an eight-rounder. Nicholson, of Laurel, Maryland, will attempt to become the first opponent to make it out of the first round against Berlanga since the powerful prospect made his pro debut in April 2016.
Full undercard coverage will be streamed by ESPN+, starting at 6 p.m. ET.
Navarrete, meanwhile, is listed as at least a 10-1 favorite versus Diaz by most Internet sports books.
“I’m going to be aiming to do one thing, and that’s defend my title and bring it back home,” Navarrete said. “The title has cost me a lot of sacrifice, and I’m not letting it go. And no matter what style ‘Pitufo’ presents, I’m gonna look for the war and I’m gonna finish him.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.