Emanuel Navarrete retains title vs. Oscar Valdez in gripping, one-sided slugfest

Oscar Valdez (L) and Emanuel Navarrete went to war for 12 rounds Saturday in Glendale, Arizona. Navarrete won by unanimous decision. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

Emanuel Navarrete didn’t have the high profile that his opponent Saturday, Oscar Valdez, enjoyed heading into their bout for the WBO super featherweight title at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona.

He left with the belt, the biggest win of his career and a greatly enhanced reputation after pounding out a unanimous decision over Valdez, the former champion. Judges scored it 116-112, 118-110 and 119-109 for Navarrete, who won the fight by pouring on the pressure.

Even an injured, possibly broken, hand could not slow him. He landed 72 power punches total in the first seven rounds according to CompuBox, but connected on 104 in the last five.

He hurt Valdez and commanded his respect early on in the fight. Valdez was staggered several times in the early rounds and dug himself a hole.

The fight was billed as the “Battle of Mexico,” and Top Rank brought in legendary Hall of Famers Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera to take part in the festivities. Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., the greatest Mexican-born boxer ever, was working a Spanish-language TV broadcast.

The fight didn’t come close to matching the brilliance of the three Barrera-Morales fights, which remain among the greatest in this century. It was still, though, a stirring and dramatic bout as each man poured his heart out and had to overcome serious adversity at some point.

“I want to thank everyone who was here watching because you were able to witness the next chapter in the great Mexican rivalries,” Navarrete said in the ring afterward. “I want to thank Oscar, as well, because he came out and gave all his heart. We performed everything that we promised we would.”

Valdez’ right eye was a grotesque mess by the midpoint of the fight and it was so bad during the final three rounds one wondered why the referee didn’t consider stopping the bout. Valdez was making Navarrete miss, but true to his style, Navarrete was simply a workhorse.

In a fight at this level, it’s often the fighter with the higher connect percentage who wins, and Valdez connected on 32 percent of his blows compared to just 21 percent for Navarrete. But Navarrete threw an astounding 1,038 punches, 602 more than Valdez. He connected on 216 shots, 76 more than Valdez.

He did it mostly with the jab, sometimes out of plan and often by necessity. His jab tore Valdez apart and kept him in range for Navarrete to land his right hand. When the right was so painful that Navarrete went a round without using it, it was the jab that carried him.

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - AUGUST 12: Oscar Valdez has his eyes damaged during his WBO junior lightweight championship fight against Emanuel Navarrete, at Desert Diamond Arena on August 12, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

Oscar Valdez reacts after his loss to Emanuel Navarrete on Saturday for the WBO super featherweight title. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

Valdez simply couldn’t put enough together to make the final rounds mean something. Navarrete was just outworking him throughout. He was smart when it was required and tenacious for most of the rest of the bout and it was a recipe for a solid win.

Valdez knew he didn’t win and embraced Navarrete in the center of the ring as Navarrete was being interviewed by ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna.

“He’s a warrior,” Valdez sad in perhaps the best tribute he could pay his conqueror. “I tried. I tried my best. We did our best and that’s all I can say. I was not going to give up, but I am sorry to disappoint everyone who came here to support me.”

Navarrete is 38-1 and has won 34 bouts in a row. While both sides tossed around the notion of a rematch, it’s not really needed. It was a one-sided bout and Valdez needs to get back in the gym and work on some of the issues that plagued him.

It’s onward and upward for Navarrete, who is just one of nine Mexican-born boxers to hold major world titles in three or more weight classes. The lightweight division is stacked, but if Navarrete decides to move up, he’ll add another entertaining fighter and legitimate threat there.

Whatever he chooses to do, though, he’ll carry a much bigger reputation into his next bout given the way he handled a very good opponent in Valdez.

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