Emanuel Navarrete is the defending WBO featherweight champion and a 10-1 favorite to beat Christopher Diaz.
Navarrete still feels like the pressure is squarely on Diaz entering their 12-round, 126-pound title fight Saturday night. Mexico’s Navarrete is relaxed because their ESPN main event will be contested in front of mostly Puerto Rican boxing fans at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida.
A sellout crowd of about 3,500 – restricted by the COVID-19 pandemic – is expected for a card headlined by Navarrete and Puerto Rico’s Diaz. Another popular Puerto Rican boxer, super middleweight knockout artist Edgar Berlanga, will meet Demond Nicholson in the opener of ESPN’s doubleheader (10 p.m. ET; 7 p.m. PT).
Navarrete has fought twice since the coronavirus crisis began 13 months ago, both times without any fans in attendance.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve fought in front of fans,” Navarrete said during a press conference Thursday. “You know, I miss the vibes of having the fans in the arena. And even though that 90 percent of the fans are going to be cheering for [Diaz], I feel like the pressure is gonna be on him because he needs to perform for his people, for his fans. I’ve always been a fighter that’s been on the road, fighting away from home, basically. So, I feel like the pressure is on him.”
The 26-year-old Navarrete (33-1, 28 KOs) will make the first defense of the WBO featherweight title he won by beating Ruben Villa in his last fight. Navarrete dropped Villa twice, once apiece in the first and fourth rounds, on his way to winning a unanimous decision versus Villa (18-1, 5 KOs) on October 9 at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
Diaz, who’s also 26, will fight for a world title for the second time.
In his first championship match, Japan’s Masayuki Ito dropped Diaz in the fourth round and beat him by unanimous decision in their 12-rounder. Ito (26-3-1, 14 KOs) won the then-vacant WBO junior lightweight title when he defeated Diaz in July 2018 at the Kissimmee Civic Center.
Diaz feels more comfortable at 126 pounds, the weight to which he moved back down after facing Ito.
“The people that’s gonna be there are expecting a great fight,” Diaz said of his fight against Navarrete. “It’s gonna be a great fight for the fans.”
Before Navarrete and Diaz meet, Brooklyn’s Berlanga (16-0, 16 KOs) will attempt to extend his first-round knockout streak against Nicholson (23-3-1, 20 KOs), of Laurel, Maryland. None of Berlanga’s opponents have made it out of the first round since he made his pro debut nearly five years ago.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.