Emanuel Navarrete negated a forgettable start to his latest title defense with an unforgettable finish.
The two-division and reigning WBO featherweight titlist turned away a pesky challenger in countryman Eduardo Baez, ending the fight in an instant with a one-punch, sixth-round knockout. A well-placed left hook to the body forced Mexicali’s Baez to take the full ten count, ending their ESPN-televised main event at 1:05 of round six Saturday evening at Pechanga Arena in San Diego.
Navarrete was ahead 48-47 on the scorecard of Dr. Lou Moret, while trailing in the eyes of judges Pat Russell (49-46) and Zachary Young (50-45)—as well as most viewers—before scoring the dramatic knockout. Ring rust was evident prior to that point, with the ten months between fights representing Navarrete’s longest ring absence in eight years.
“I won’t deny that the ten months away from the ring made it difficult,” Navarrete told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna after the win. “Taking that much time off and then melting down to 126 made it hard for me but I got it done.”
Navarrete appeared in this very venue for his previous title defense, a twelve-round decision over Joet Gonzalez last October in an entertaining but clear-cut win. The extended break between fights was unexpected to most, though Navarrete claimed prior to the fight to welcome the time off after having served as among the sport’s most active fighters dating back to his December 2018 WBO junior featherweight title win over Isaac Dogboe.
The third defense of his WBO featherweight title jumped out to a strange start. Baez came out working his jab early in his first career title challenge. Navarrete boxed in reverse in the early portion of the contest, landing a left hook midway through the opening round but looking sluggish after struggling to hit the featherweight mark at Friday’s official pre-fight weigh-in.
Navarrete opened up his attack in round two, though Baez remained unbothered. The Mexicali native worked the body of the defending titlist, who was driven to the ropes after an accidental clash of heads. Baez continued to throw and land downstairs, coming back upstairs with a classic one-two which was met with a four-punch combination by Navarrete just before the bell.
Baez mixed in more defense in round three, fighting responsibly as Navarrete spent the round fighting mostly out of a southpaw stance. The change in style produced minimal effect, with Baez still landing downstairs and offering slick head movement to avoid Navarrete’s right hands as he worked his way inside.
Navarrete was wild with his punches, missing badly with overhand rights and left hooks in the direction of a fleet-footed Baez in round four. Baez offered enough movement to get Navarrete to follow him, then respond with jabs and chopping right hands. Navarrete picked up the pace and enjoyed greater success later in the round, continuing the trend at the start of round five.
Baez showed a sturdy chin, catching a clean right hand and responding with a counter right. Navarrete offered more combinations but was deliberate in his attack, clearing showing the effects of having not fought in ten months and in shrinking back down to featherweight.
Navarrete was more purposeful at the start of round six, throwing his left hook with greater conviction. Baez defended against the attack while fighting behind a tight guard to block the shots upstairs.
He wasn’t prepared for the one shot downstairs to suddenly end the fight.
A well-placed left hook to the body by Navarrete caused Baez (22-2-2, 7KOs) to back up and take a knee. He remained on the canvas for the entirety of referee Jack Reiss’ ten count to end the fight.
“That’s a very Mexican punch,” Navarrete said of the fight-ending blow. I don’t throw a perfect left hook like you’re used to seeing. But this one came out perfect for me. And you saw the result because not many guys can take that shot.”
Navarrete survives a scare, improving to 36-1 (30KOs) with the bailout knockout. He was the more active though less effective puncher, landing 94-of-391 total punches (24%), compared to 96-of-293 (32.8%) for Baez according to CompuBox unofficial punch stats. Navarrete barely outlanded Baez in power punches, 74-to-73, though Baez landed at a higher percentage (40.6% to 32.2%), although erased by the single left hook to the body to end the fight.
The feat marked the third defense of his WBO featherweight title for Navarrete while extending his current 31-fight win streak. He is now 10-0 (7KOs) in title fights spanning two weight divisions.
The question is if this was his last fight before vying for a title at a third weight class.
Pre-fight talk swirled around a previously—though briefly—discussed showdown with two-division and reigning lineal junior lightweight champion Shakur Stevenson. The two went their separate ways quickly, though it is a fight that can be revisited in the year ahead.
“I want to sit back and enjoy this victory,” Navarrete said, partially deflecting the question. “After that, I’ll sit down with my team and together we will decide what’s the best next step to take.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox