Ruben Villa senses from fans, media and odds-makers that many of them think he isn’t ready for what awaits him Friday night in Las Vegas.
The undefeated southpaw clearly is an underdog entering his WBO featherweight title fight against Emanuel Navarrete. Villa believes, however, that this is the perfect opportunity to prove how good he is, in what obviously is a significant step up in class.
“I wanna see the best Ruben Villa,” Villa said during a press conference Wednesday in Las Vegas. “I haven’t even seen him yet. So, I feel like Navarrete’s gonna bring him out of me and I’m just excited to perform and, like I said, show you guys what I got. I feel like I’ve been slept on and maybe a lot of people think I don’t belong here. But I’m gonna show everyone I’m an elite 126[-pound] fighter. And yeah, I’m coming to win and I’m coming to fight.”
Mexico’s Navarrete (32-1, 28 KOs) is a former WBO junior featherweight champion who will attempt to win a world title in a second division. The 25-year-old Navarrete, who is the WBO’s number one contender, is a 3-1 favorite over the 23-year-old Villa (18-0, 5 KOs), who is ranked second by the WBO.
Navarrete’s aggressive nature should help provide the toughest test of Villa’s four-year pro career. Villa heavily relies on movement and his jab to out-point opponents, but Navarrete intends to remove Villa from his comfort zone in a 12-round, 126-pound title fight ESPN will televise from MGM Grand Conference Center.
“He’s an aggressive guy who throws a hundred punches a round,” Villa said. “You know, I feel like it’s just gonna bring the best out of me, to do my job as well as I can. And like I said, he’s gonna bring the best out of me, and I feel like you’re gonna see a bigger and better Ruben Villa this Friday.”
Villa defeated Shakur Stevenson twice while on his way to attempting to earn a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team. Stevenson (14-0, 8 KOs) also beat Villa twice and went on to win a silver medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Navarrete and Villa will fight for the WBO 126-pound crown Stevenson vacated over the summer to remain in the junior lightweight division.
ESPN is set to air Navarrete-Villa following a 10-round middleweight match in which Kazakhstan’s Janibek Alimkhanuly (8-0, 4 KOs) will square off against Argentina’s Gonzalo Coria (16-3, 6 KOs). The Alimkhanuly-Coria contest will open ESPN’s doubleheader at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.
ESPN+ will start streaming the Navarrete-Villa undercard at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.