Tomorrow night on ESPN (10:00 pm ET), a pair of world titles will be on the line at 130 and 122, both rematches. Here’s who we’re picking on Saturday in Tucson, Arizona, starting with the co-feature.
Emanuel Navarrete vs Isaac Dogboe II
Dogboe taking this rematch at all says a lot about his attitude and determination, because if you look at their first fight in December, Navarrete just proved to be a horrible matchup for the Ghanaian. I didn’t get to watch that fight live, but I watched it later that same night. I went in wondering if maybe Dogboe’s 2018 schedule — Cesar Juarez in January, Jessie Magdaleno in April, Hidenori Otake in August, Navarrete in December — might have gotten the better of him. Forget just the fights and think about all the training, all the sparring that went into his year. It’s a lot. But then I watched the fight, and while maybe that was a factor, Navarrete’s significant advantages in height and reach and his ability to do damage were the real downfalls for the exciting and likable Dogboe, not fatigue.
Those advantages haven’t changed any, and I don’t expect Dogboe to have reinvented his game in the last few months, either. So being totally honest, I’m going with pure gut feeling and kinda rooting from my heart here, but I think Dogboe gets the belt back in a close, hard-fought fight — with some controversy. This is not a logical pick. Don’t bet your car payment on this or anything, you don’t have to be a dumbass just because I am. Dogboe SD-12
This is an interesting matchup. The first time these two fought last December things didn’t exactly go to plan for Dogboe, who found himself getting picked off by the taller, longer Navarrate from the early going. In fact, Navarrate’s punches started to make a visible impact on Dogboe as early as the second round, forcing Dogboe to abandon his usually aggressive, come-forward style. Dogboe continued to bite down and fight as hard as he could, but he really took some punishment by the end of that fight, and I remember thinking at the time that it could be punishment that Dogboe would carry with him going forward.
I don’t think there’s been enough time between that fight and this one for Dogboe to exorcise those demons, and I generally think that Dogboe was exposed in a poor style match-up. So for the rematch I’d expect Navarrate to stick to what worked in their first fight, while I don’t think Dogboe will be able to enact enough necessary adjustments to change things around. I see Dogboe putting up a good fight but continuing to struggle against rangy fighters with good boxing ability. I’m taking Navarrate by decision. Navarrate UD-12
Patrick L. Stumberg
We need fewer immediate rematches in combat sports; they’re acceptable when the first fight was competitive and had a disputed outcome or, in exceptions like Eleider Alvarez vs Sergey Kovalev, when one fighter was clearly in control before getting stopped out of nowhere. Navarrete vs Dogboe was neither.
Dogboe’s mauling style simply struggled to find purchase against a big, durable, and powerful foe who gave as good as he got even with an injured hand. Dogboe, skilled and rapidly improving though he may be, isn’t going to fundamentally reinvent himself in five months. I’ve seen promising fighters spiral after a second failed fight with their first conqueror, and I can only hope it doesn’t happen here after Navarrete wears him down for a finish this time. Navarrete TKO-9
Repeat or revenge in this WBO super bantamweight fight has split the bookies right down the middle; picking a winner has left me going back and forwards in metronomic fashion. We can read a lot from the first fight, however. Last December’s bout saw Navarrete use his physical advantages over the heavy favourite Dogboe, getting the better of the former champion in each of the exchanges and displaying considerably heavier hands. If Dogboe continues with his come-forward, straight-line pressure, the Mexican will pick “Royal Storm” off with ease, allowing his left hook and flurries of upper-cuts to flow. If Dogboe can move in and out of the pocket, finding an antidote to Navarrete’s reach — with a focus on shot selection — he has a chance of regaining his WBO crown. This being said, sometimes a guy just has your number. Dogboe SD-12
And the staff winner is...
We have a draw (2-2)!
Miguel Berchelt vs Francisco Vargas II
I love Francisco Vargas, he’s one of those fighters who is going to be very fondly remembered by the people who were around to see him fight, even if he doesn’t exactly go down in the annals of history as an all-time great. I won’t soon forget his wars with Takashi Miura or Orlando Salido, or his fight where he lost the belt to the younger Berchelt in Jan. 2017.
Honestly, Vargas hasn’t looked bad or broken down in his last two, a couple of wins over Stephen Smith and Rod Salka. But he’s 34. He wasn’t able to handle Berchelt in battle two years ago, and I don’t think he can do it now, but this time, I don’t think he lasts into the 11th round. He’ll go out on his shield, but he’s going out here. Berchelt TKO-6
If you love action fights (and quite frankly, who doesn’t?) then this is hands-down the fight for you! Both Miguel Berchelt and Francisco Vargas bring it and don’t let up until the final bell sounds. The first time they faced off in early 2017 was an electric atmosphere until Berchelt ultimately broke down and stopped Vargas in 11. Since then Vargas has only fought twice, winning both matches, but at age 34 he’ll now be stepping right back up against the 27-year-old man who worked him over not too long ago.
I think Berchelt and Vargas are similar in a lot of ways, but I just think that Berchelt has proven he’s just enough better than Vargas to take advantage of his huge heart. Because of this I think this rematch will be a fun one, but one that ends in similar fashion to the first. Berchelt is just sharper, fresher, and has more recent experience fighting better opposition. Berchelt stops Vargas again here, just a little quicker this time. Berchelt TKO-9
Patrick L. Stumberg
Francisco Vargas will always have a special place in my heart for striking Rod Salka down after the latter turned to the dark side, but that boy’s going to get mollywhopped. He turned 34 in December, while Berchelt remains firmly in his athletic prime at 27; if anyone’s going to be stronger than the first time, it’s “El Alacran.”
Berchelt has proven time and again that he’s damn near impossible to out-slug and that’s essentially Vargas’ only avenue of victory. I can’t imagine an older Vargas having more success against Berchelt’s debilitating offense, especially considering the punishment he took the first time around compounding with his previous wars. Vargas will make it a fight early, as he always done, but Berchelt should put him down more quickly than before. Berchelt TKO-7
Miguel Berchelt dealt Francisco Vargas the first L of his career two years ago after an all-action war forced a stoppage of “El Bandido” in the 11th gruelling round. Cut on both eyes as well as the nose early on in the fight, Vargas was up against it from as early as the third round; relentless pressure from the younger challenger inevitably proved crucial.
The seven-year difference between these two can’t be ignored, with Father Time often catching up with the little guys overnight. Berchelt has shown his pedigree in defending his WBC super featherweight strap four times since the first fight, recording stoppages in all but one. It’s hard to go against Berchelt in this one. If the rematch came in late-2017 we may be looking at a different picture, however, “El Alacran” has proved himself to be a beast at the 130-pound limit. Another war is expected; Berchelt may prove even more clinical in Tucson. Let’s see the Farmer unification next. Berchelt TKO-9 to 12