Manny Robles is hoping for a little less drama when his fighter, Rafael Espinoza, makes his first defense of his WBO featherweight title against Sergio Chirino Sanchez in Las Vegas on Friday.

Last December, Mexico’s Espinoza (24-0, 20 KOs) produced one of the shocks of 2023 to rip the title away from Robeisy Ramirez.

After using his reach and power to keep Ramirez at bay over the first four rounds, the 6-foot-1 Espinoza was floored heavily in the fifth, and showed real character and composure to survive the discomfort of an injured ankle and a mid-fight surge from the brilliant Cuban.

Amid the chaos, Robles was able to find the right words to rally his fighter over the championship rounds from his corner, and the 30-year-old Espinoza scored a crucial final-round knockdown that earned him a majority decision and his first world title.

It was a thrilling spectacle and a star-making performance, but having gone to the well and proven his heart to win the belt, Robles wants to see Espinoza defend it in more routine fashion.

“I think what you saw over the first five rounds of the fight with Robeisy, you’re gonna get that in his fight with Sanchez. There had to be a change of plans in that fight when he got dropped and twisted his ankle,” Robles said. “Talk about bringing the dog out in somebody – we had to bring the dog out of Rafa to win that world title. You have to be able to make changes on the fly depending on the situation you’re in and take him to the next level.

“That’s the connection you have with a fighter. The chemistry. If a fighter is able to believe in you and have faith in you, then you can do great things. You have to get fighters to believe in you, believe in what you say.”

A series of new faces and exciting fights have given the featherweight division a massive shot in the arm.

Espinoza proved himself to be a real danger with his victory over Ramirez, whilst Ray Ford showed plenty of talent and heart himself to stop Otabek Kholmatov and win the WBA belt before losing it to the exciting and aggressive Nick Ball.

Robles is particularly impressed by Ball, who is in a rich vein of form. In the six months before beating Ford to claim his first world title, the 27-year-old from Liverpool, England, dominated Isaac Dogboe over 12 rounds and was extremely unfortunate to have to settle for a draw after dropping Rey Vargas and appearing to bully the long-reigning WBC champion. 

“Incredible. He’s great for boxing. I want to congratulate him,” Robles said. “I love to see fighters like that. Just like Rafael Espinoza, an underdog who came out and shocked the world to prove the world wrong. He’s known that all along. He’s known in his greatness – it just takes people to believe in him. As long as the fighter believes in himself and his team believes in him, fighters can become unstoppable. He’s proven that time and time again, so congratulations.”

A fight between the tall, power-punching Espinoza and the relentless aggression of the tank-like Ball would produce a real clash of styles should their paths cross. If the fight is ever proposed, Robles would certainly be interested. For now, he has more pressing business to attend to in Sanchez (22-1, 13 KOs).

“Yeah, why not,” Robles said with a laugh. “That’d be a good fight, huh? First things first, we have to handle our business on Friday night. Once we get through Friday, we’ll see what the future has in store for us.”