Tonight’s clash between Emanuel Navarrete and Ruben Villa is compelling as it is as evenly-matched. Or so we think.
Both Navarrete and Villa will be vying for the vacant WBO featherweight title tonight at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. The 12-round bout will air live on ESPN (10 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. PT).
There are numerous ways tonight’s fight could play out.
Navarrete (32-1, 28 knockouts), the former WBO junior featherweight titleholder from the Mexico City area, has stopped 14 of his last 15 opponents (Boxrec is not recognizing Navarrete’s last fight, which was a knockout win over Uriel Lopez on June 20). His style is to walk down and batter his opponents with relentless pressure and abundance of punches.
Could that play into the hands of Villa (18-0, 5 KOs), a counter-puncher from Salinas, California? It possibly could. Then again, the southpaw Villa has yet to face someone with the pedigree and hard-punching ability of Navarrete.
Villa, who is co-promoted by Banner Promotions and Thompson Boxing, has a solid foundation from his days as an amateur standout, which includes two victories over former WBO featherweight titleholder Shakur Stevenson.
The 23-year-old Villa has defeated modest opposition thus far, including his last fight on January 31, when he defeated fringe contender Alexei Collado by unanimous decision. Villa believes the opposition he has faced in his last couple of fights, including the sparring he has received at the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in Riverside, California, has prepared him for the Navarrete fight.
"My last couple of fights, they've been aggressive guys who come to beat me and think they're going to get me off my game plan,” said Villa, who is co-trained by Sam Garcia and Max Garcia. “But I adapted well. We always had good game plans and stuck to game plans, and now we're here fighting for a world title. I feel like I'm ready. I feel like he's beatable, and my style is the one to do it.
"He's an aggressive guy who throws 100 punches a round. I feel like it's just going to bring the best out of me to do my job as well as I can.”
Navarrete has not fought fighters who are slick like Villa. Navarrete’s opponents have stood in the pocket with him, allowing him to rain punches down to the head and body.
It will be interesting to see if Navarrete will throw more feints to get Villa to open up and whether he is successful at cutting off the ring, preventing him from utilizing the ring in its entirety and fighting on the outside.
Whatever Villa will implement in the ring, Navarrete is confident he can commit to his game-plan and make adjustments, if necessary, especially fighting at featherweight as opposed to struggling to make the 122-pound limit.
"My body is doing a lot better,” said Navarrete, who is co-promoted by Top Rank and Zanfer Promotions. “I’m growing a little bit more. It was getting a little bit difficult making 122, but now going up to 126, I think I'm more prepared for that.
"For now, we're pretty much ready. We're ready for this weight. We're ready for this fight on Friday night, so I think we're ready to go with what we have. After this fight, we're going to keep moving forward."
In the co-feature, middleweight prospect Zhanibek Alimkhanuly (8-0, 4 KOs), who is originally from Kazakhstan and now lives and trains in Oxnard, California, will face Argentina’s Gonzalo Gaston Coria (16-3, 6 KOs) in a 10-round bout.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for BoxingScene since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing