The sport’s most active reigning titlist is angling to keep his options open for his next fight.
Not even a global health crisis can slow down Emanuel Navarrete, who made his way to the ring for the sixth time in a span of 13 months. The reigning World Boxing Organization (WBO) junior featherweight titlist from San Juan Zitlaltepec, Mexico made his debut at featherweight, scoring a 6th round stoppage of countryman Uriel Lopez (13-14-1, 6KOs) atop an ESPN show Saturday evening in Mexico City.
The occasion marked the first non-title fight for the 25-year old Navarrete since soaring to the top of the 122-pound division following the first of two wins over then-unbeaten Isaac Dogboe. The level of competition has been far less inspiring than his rate of activity, including his facing a .500 fighter heading into Saturday’s main event. It’s something he hopes to change in his next fight, although not eager to put his 5’7” frame through the rigors of making 122 pounds if his fellow title claimants aren’t willing to step to him.
“I want to unify [the] titles,” Navarrete (31-1, 27KOs) insisted after Saturday’s win, the 26th in a row since suffering his lone career defeat in 2012. [B]ut if nobody accepts my challenge, I'll move up to featherweight.”
Theoretically, the line for a unification bout should be shorter than challenging for a featherweight belt. At his present weight exists two other major title claimants (excluding secondary beltholders)—countryman and current unbeaten World Boxing Council (WBC) champ Rey Vargas (34-0, 22KO) and Murodjon Akhmadaliev (8-0, 6KOs), an unbeaten southpaw and 2016 Olympic Bronze medalist from Uzbekistan who claimed the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Association (WBA) belts earlier this year.
All three reigning 122-pound titlists are currently aligned with different U.S. platforms. Navarrete—through Zanfer Promotions and Top Rank—fights primarily on ESPN. Otumba’s Vargas recently signed with adviser Al Haymon, whose Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) conglomerate is linked to Fox Sports and Showtime. Akhmadaliev—represented by Vadim Kornilov and World of Boxing—has appeared on DAZN in each of his last three starts.
Little has been done to move the three boxers in the same direction, which leaves Navarrete strongly considering a move up the scale to featherweight. The idea has already been embraced by the WBO, the Puerto Rico-based organization which is prepared to provide a path for him to attempt to become a two-division titlist.
“If Emanuel Navarrete decides to move up to 126 [pounds], he will be the number one [contender in the WBO],” Francisco ‘Paco’ Valcárcel, president of the WBO confirmed to BoxingScene.com before adding to that claim after Navarrete’s win on Saturday. “[Three] possible opponents [to choose from]—[Michael] Conlan, Ruben Villa and [Jessie] Magdaleno if Shakur Stevenson move[s] up.”
Stevenson (14-0, 8KOs) currently holds the WBO 126-pound title but has declared his intentions to challenge for a title in the 130-pound junior lightweight division. The 2016 Olympic Silver medalist has yet to relinquish his title, which works to the benefit of Navarrete given the sanctioning body’s recent declaration.
Belfast’s Conlan (13-0, 7KOs)—a two-time Olympian for Ireland and 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist—is the current number one contender at 126, but whom has never been designated as a mandatory challenger by the sanctioning body.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox