Emanuel Navarrete overcame a slow start, and an effective game plan from Eduardo Baez, to win by knockout Saturday night at Pechanga Arena in San Diego, California.
Navarrete, who is ranked No. 1 by The Ring at 126 pounds, successfully defended his WBO world featherweight title and improved to 36-1, 30 knockouts.
Baez’s focus to the body was successful from the opening bell. He was able to connect with left hooks to the body as both fighters traded on the inside.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) August 21, 2022
Undaunted, Navarrete was able to connect with more frequency as the bout continued. He was able to connect with overhand and counter right hands to the head, but Baez was also able to land the occasional right to the head of Navarrete.
By the fifth round, Navarrete also began digging to the body. Less than a minute into the sixth round, Navarrete dug a left hook to the body. A delayed reaction from the punch forced Baez to drop to one knee. Referee Jack Reiss counted Baez out at 1:00.
Scorecards at the time of the stoppage offered contrasting points of view of the fight. Two judges had Baez winning 50-45 and 48-47, while the third judge had Navarrete winning 49-46.
Time will tell whether Navarrete, who is co-promoted by Top Rank and Zanfer Boxing, will make the fourth defense of the WBO featherweight title later this year or in early 2023. There is a possibility Navarrete could move up in weight to 130 pounds and face former world titleholder Oscar Valdez in an attractive clash between boxer-punchers from Mexico.
Navarrete will weigh all options with his management and co-promoters before making a final decision. He is also a former WBO world junior featherweight titleholder.
“It’s great to have options,” said Navarrete after the fight. “I’m going to rest because we had a difficult and hard camp. We’re going to sit down and talk about if those options include fighting at 126 or 130 pounds.”
Baez, who grew up in Mexicali, Mexico and now resides directly across the U.S. border in Calexico, drops to 21-3-2, 7 KOs. He has lost two of his last three bouts.
The Navarrete-Baez fight headlined a three-bout Top Rank on ESPN telecast.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for The Ring since October 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (California) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing.