The originally scheduled Emanuel Navarrete-Oscar Valdez bout was pegged as a can’t-miss Fight of the Year contender.

An unhealed injury forced Valdez out of the February 3 vacant WBO junior lightweight title fight, though Navarrete still found himself in a hellish slugfest with replacement opponent Liam Wilson. Both fighters hit the deck, with Navarrete (37-1, 31KOs) ultimately forcing the stoppage in the ninth round of what many immediately hailed as an early Fight of the Year contender from the Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona.

Among the small few who disagreed with that assessment was the night’s victor.

“To be honest, I wouldn’t consider that among the Fight of the Year candidates,” Navarrete admitted to “It was a difficult fight and I was surprised when he was able to knock me down for the first time in my career.

“With all of the great fights we’ve had this year, I feel like our fight falls short.”

The sense is that one will emerge from that same venue for Navarrete’s rescheduled title fight versus Valdez (31-1, 22KOs) atop an August 12 ESPN telecast.

“I’m sure the entire world believes this fight has the potential to become fight of the year,” acknowledged Navarrete. “Our styles just make that a natural pick. We have a lot of competition… a lot to live up to.”

Whereas a vacant belt was at stake in February, Navarrete will enter the ring as the defending champ. The 28-year-old from San Juan Zitlaltepec, Mexico is also armed with a 32-fight win streak that includes a perfect 11-0 record in title fights that spans three weight divisions.

Valdez fully recovered from a back injury that forced him out of two separate fight dates after his lone career defeat to Shakur Stevenson last April 30 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

The two-time Olympian for Mexico and former two-division titlist rebounded with a ten-round win over Adam ‘BluNose’ Lopez on May 20 also at MGM Grand, more than three years after their chance meeting on 24 hours’ notice. Valdez had to overcome an early knockdown to rally and stop Lopez in the seventh round of their November 2019 meeting, which marked his junior lightweight debut after he vacated his featherweight title.

Now that Navarrete and Valdez are armed with wins versus opponents other than each other as originally planned, the sense is a better version of both will appear in the ring on August 12. Valdez was able to shake loose some ring rust, while Navarrete was able to survive his worst night in the ring since entering the title picture more than four years ago.  

“What I gained from that fight with Liam Wilson was a lot of experience and allowed me to overcome the type of adversity I’ve never faced before,” stated Navarrete. “It will make me even more prepared for this fight versus Valdez.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox