Emanuel Navarrete had to work damn hard to do it, but he retained his WBO featherweight title with a decision win over Joet Gonzalez in tonight’s ESPN+ main event from San Diego.
Navarrete won on scores of 116-112, 116-112, and 118-110. Bad Left Hook scored the fight 116-112 for Navarrete, and while some of the early reaction is that 118-110 was too wide, it seems a defensible enough card, with due respect to the incredible effort Gonzalez put in.
Gonzalez (24-2, 14 KO) gave Navarrete (35-1, 29 KO) a hard, rugged fight tonight, but it never felt like the challenger picked up the sort of momentum he really needed. His right eye was a mess after the fight, near Pawel Wolak levels (if you know, you know), but he just kept coming at Navarrete all night, doing his best to disrupt the awkward rhythms that have made “El Vaquero” so successful the last few years.
It’s right there with Navarrete’s win over Ruben Villa in 2020 for the toughest night Navarrete has had since he exploded onto the world scene in late 2018, but in a totally different way. While Villa’s boxing skills gave Navarrete some fits, tonight it was just the determination and heart of Gonzalez, who never went away, never came close to folding, and fought his ass off for 12 rounds.
You also have to note that Gonzalez, 28, did a fair bit of roughhouse sort of stuff, let’s say. He landed a lot of low blows that referee Ray Corona all but ignored, and also was the cause of several trips and head clashes. Navarrete and his corner were aware of the head usage very early in the fight, and the low blows were a constant issue. But with Corona not really doing anything about it, you simply can’t blame Gonzalez for doing it; this is the fight game, and he was here to do anything he could to win a world title.
Navarrete showed no ill will after the fight, seemingly taking it all in stride in the heat of the moment, and showing real respect for his opponent.
“Joet exceeded expectations. He’s such a fighter, a great fighter,” Navarrete said through an interpreter. “I hurt him, but every single time, he came back. And also, he hurt me. A couple of shots he landed hurt me in the fight.”
Asked what’s next for him, Navarrete said, “It has been an exciting ride so far, and now I want to go on to the bigger fights.” When asked, he said he would be open to fighting Gonzalez again, which in all honesty doesn’t seem particularly necessary, but the boxing business continues to be utterly obsessed with rematches.
“I thought I had the win, I hurt him in the third or fourth round on a right hand,” Gonzalez said. “I thought I had it 7 rounds to 5, 8 rounds to 4. I was really surprised by that score, 118-110, but it is what it is, man. I came and did my best.”
Noting that he’s now 0-2 in world title fights, Gonzalez said he would keep going for the top level and looking to give fans great fights. “Hopefully I get another opportunity, and I’m going to continue to work.”
Giovani Santillan UD-10 Angel Ruiz
Santillan picks up a good win at home in San Diego, bringing in a fair amount of the crowd obviously, and winning clearly on scores of 99-91, 100-90, and 100-90.
This looked like it might be more competitive early, as Ruiz (17-2, 12 KO) had a solid first round, but he hurt his left hand — his power hand as a southpaw — early in the fight, and it was pretty clearly an issue going forward.
That’s not to take away from the good work of Santillan (28-0, 15 KO) who plugged away, worked consistently, and just won the rounds with a blue collar sort of performance. He’s 29 so his status as a “prospect” is not what you might think at a glance and having not had him on big stages and the like too often, but he’s clearly a solid welterweight, someone who will get his chances to mix in with the bigger names if he keeps winning. He’s also clearly meshing with trainer Robert Garcia; this was their second fight together after a debatable points win over Antonio DeMarco caused Santillan and his father to willingly seek a switch, and it’s working.
- Henry Lebron UD-8 Manuel Rey Rojas: Lebron (14-0, 9 KO) was fighting for the first time in 14 months but looked pretty sharp again. The southpaw junior lightweight from Puerto Rico just doesn’t lose rounds so far in his pro career, and didn’t lose one here against Rojas (21-6, 6 KO), an always-game professional opponent who just couldn’t solve the puzzle at all, doing worse here than he did against the likes of Albert Bell and Felix Verdejo in prior defeats.
- Lindolfo Delgado UD-8 Juan Garcia Mendez: Scores were 80-71 across the board, with Mendez (21-5-2, 13 KO) down once. Delgado (14-0, 12 KO) is a good fighter, good prospect, maybe not a great prospect; Bernardo Osuna hyped up how he hasn’t been “matched easily” thus far, using opponents’ W-L records as his reasoning, but we all know that some mediocre or worse fighters can run up paper records in pro boxing. It’s just the way the game can work. But Delgado, 26, can definitely fight. It’s really a question of how good he’s going to be at 140, and we’ll find out over the next three years or so, probably. He’s definitely not had the rocket strapped to him.
- Javier Martinez UD-6 Darryl Jones: A hard-earned but clear win for Martinez, the 26-year-old middleweight from Milwaukee. Martinez (5-0, 2 KO) isn’t the biggest puncher, but he’s got a real dedication to body punching that you love to see. He’s not a blue chip sort of prospect, but his qualities are there and he’s already a pretty mature fighter, too, and not in a “too old” sort of way, just polished and smart. Jones (4-3-1, 2 KO) deserves real respect for the toughness and determination he showed here; he was out-gunned but never gave up on it, and Martinez had to work all six rounds.
- Floyd Diaz UD-4 Jose Ramirez: Scores were 39-36, 40-35, 40-35, with Ramirez (1-1, 1 KO) down in the first round and never really in the fight. These two are both teenagers, they’ve met as very young amateurs — Top Rank had a photo of them after a fight when they were just eight years old — and they’re at very different stages now. Frankly, Diaz (3-0, 0 KO) looks like a decent if not exceptional bantamweight prospect, and Ramirez has a lot more work to do, to say the least.
- Antonio Mireles TKO-1 Demonte Randle: Mireles, a 6’9” heavyweight from Iowa, was a 2020 Olympic trials gold medalist, and made a successful debut here, dropping the roly-poly Randle (2-2, 2 KO) three times officially, though really the last couple were more that the 314 lb Randle couldn’t stop from just sort of falling over. Mireles flashed a lot of combination punching and stuff but obviously this wasn’t the biggest test for him.