Emanuel Navarrete expected his latest title challenger to rise to the occasion, though surprised at how much was required to eventually get rid of Christopher Diaz.
A sellout and partisan crowd of 3,262 at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida turned out in full force this past Saturday to cheer on the locally based Boricua, who refused to go away quietly in suffering a 12th round stoppage loss. Mexico’s Navarrete scored four knockdowns, the last of which prompted a stoppage with just 0:11 to go in their ESPN-televised WBO featherweight title fight.
"I think we did put on a worthy performance (of the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico in-ring rivalry),” Navarrete said after registering the first defense of his second divisional title reign. “Pitufo. I knew he was tough, I knew he was strong and I knew he could hit hard, but he surpassed all my expectations.
“He brought out all the best in me and so I’ve got a lot of respect for Christopher ‘Pitufo’ Diaz.”
Navarrete (34-1, 20KOs) marched into enemy territory for his first title defense, coming six months after winning the vacant WBO featherweight belt without any fans in attendance. The streaking 26-year-old from San Juan Zitlaltepec, Mexico overcame a stiff challenge from unbeaten Ruben Villa to become a two-division titlist, doing so behind closed doors at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas last October.
The atmosphere was remarkably different on Saturday, with the heavily Puerto Rican-populated crowd on hand in support of Diaz and all of the Boricuas on the eight-fight show. Diaz never relented, surviving a 4th round knockdown to win round five and two more knockdowns in round eight to give Navarrete fits in rounds nine and ten.
Even prior to the stoppage, Diaz left it all in the ring, willingly engaging Navarrete in a war as he sought a come-from-behind knockout. The fourth and final knockdown of the night was enough for Nelson Rodriguez, Diaz’s head trainer to call for referee Samuel Burgos to end the fight.
Navarrete extended his win streak to 29 in a row since his lone career defeat in his first year as a pro, while improving to 8-0 (6KOs) in title fights. The run—which spans the junior featherweight and featherweight divisions—includes three stoppage wins in the championship rounds, with Navarrete having now gone 10 rounds or more seven times in his career.
Few if any were as taxing as what he experienced over the weekend.
“I was really impressed by ‘Pitufo’ because every time I hurt him, every time I dropped him, he came back stronger,” admitted Navarrete “He was a beast in there because he kept coming at me. He kept getting better even though I kept hurting him, and as the fight progressed, you’d expect him to get weaker but he kept getting stronger. I just couldn’t understand it.
“So, I have the utmost respect for Christopher ‘Pitufo’ Diaz and what he did [on Saturday night]."
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox