From the moment the fight was first ordered, Ruben Villa fully embraced the concept of entering as the B-side.
On the other end is one of the sport’s most prominent rising stars in Emanuel Navarrete (32-1, 28KOs), a streaking former junior featherweight titlist aiming to become a two-division champ. The 25-year old from San Juan Zitlaltepec, Mexico will face one of the sport’s most awkward stylists in the unbeaten Villa in order to realize that dream, as the two collide Friday evening on ESPN from The Bubble at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
For now, the promotion has been one way—with all of the attention focused on Navarrete. The strategy makes sense as he is co-promoted by event handler Top Rank, with Villa having toiled in relative anonymity to date.
“Even in bouts where I was favored, I was never truly the A-side or really hyped up, so I didn’t expect much attention,” Villa admitted to BoxingScene.com. “We’re fighting for the vacant title, but let’s face it—I’m facing the champion and I am the underdog. It’s a role I’m used to and it’s never bothered me. In fact, it makes each win more satisfying.”
Villa (18-0, 5KOs) has fought several times before on Showtime’s ShoBox series, though all on the prospect level—as to be expected, given the series’ roots. Friday evening will mark a significant step up in class for the 23-year old from Salinas, California, who last fought in a 10-round decision win over Alexei Collado this past January in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Friday will mark Villa’s first career title fight, a stage on which Navarrete ascended following a 12-round unanimous decision win over then-unbeaten 122-pound titlist Isaac Dogboe in December 2018. Five title defenses followed, all on ESPN platforms and ending inside the distance as did his featherweight debut in stopping countryman Uriel Lopez in six rounds this past June on ESPN.
Betting odds will likely have Navarrete as the considerable favorite heading into the bout, as does the current pre-fight buildup which barely suggests an opponent.
“I’ll make sure they remember me at the end of the night,” vows Villa. “I already know I’m the best there is at 126 right now. After this fight, I will control this weight class.
“Navarrete being a (former) champion will make it even sweeter.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox