GLENDALE, Arizona – Emanuel Navarrete became the tenth fighter from Mexico to win titles in three weight divisions in his previous outing.
Still, absent was the chance to cement his legacy against a highly regarded countryman. His off-the-canvas, ninth-round knockout of Australia’s Liam Wilson on February 3 was meant to come versus Oscar Valdez, who was sidelined with a pre-existing back injury which never fully healed. The win ran Navarrete’s record to 11-0 in title fights spanning three weight divisions after he won the WBO junior lightweight title.
Still, he left the ring somewhat unfulfilled.
“I was fortunate to get the fight versus Liam Wilson last time when Oscar Valdez had to withdraw,” Navarrete told BoxingScene.com. “But this is the fight that I wanted to prove to everyone that I deserve to be a three-division world champion, even more than proving where I belong in the 130-pound division.
“This is an opportunity to prove to myself that I can beat a great former champion like Oscar Valdez.”
Navarrete-Valdez headlines an ESPN telecast this Saturday from Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
The same venue was reserved for the February 3 date that instead saw Navarrete (37-1, 31KOs) recover from his first career knockdown to drop and stop Wilson in a terrific in-ring shootout. The 28-year-old from San Juan Zitlaltepec, Mexico still held the WBO featherweight title at the time but vacated the belt days later to continue in the 130-pound division.
Despite the fan-friendly win over Wilson, there were more questions than answers as to Navarrete’s place among the best junior lightweights. It was a matter he hoped to resolve that night versus Valdez (31-1, 23KOs), a two-time Olympian for Mexico and former two-division titlist who is still highly regarded enough to enter this weekend as the slight betting favorite.
The sense is that Valdez has the chance to emerge as the division’s top fighter. Shakur Stevenson enjoyed that role after he soundly outpointed the 32-year-old Nogales, Mexico native in their WBC/WBO unification bout last April 30 but outgrew 130 and now competes at lightweight.
Navarrete enters this Saturday’s bout armed with the WBO title and a 32-fight win streak. He is part of a revival at the top level of a weight class that has seen its four major titles change hands five times within the past 12 months.
More so than further unifying the division, however, this is the fight where ‘El Vaquero’ turns to for long-sought respect.
“The main thing on my mind is to beat Oscar Valdez,” insisted Navarrete. “Once I do that, the fans can decide where I belong among the best. I respect the other champions in my division, but they are not fighting me. It doesn’t make sense to focus on anything other than this fight. Yes, of course I would love to further unify the division after I win this fight.
“That motivates me even more to get this win over Oscar Valdez.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox