The four-month layoff didn’t seem to affect the always active Emanuel Navarrete. The junior featherweight world titlist, who had fought five times between December 2018 and February 2020, was forced to take extra time between fights due to the coronavirus pandemic but still was able to come out with a sixth-round TKO over Uriel Lopez on Saturday night in Mexico City.
Navarrete was as imposing as ever, dominating the fight and scoring his sixth consecutive victory by stoppage.
Navarrete has been discussing a move up in weight to become a two-division champion, especially if a big fight doesn’t materialize at 122 pounds in short order. Is that a good move for him? Who should Navarrete fight next?
Steve Kim and Ben Baby share their thoughts on Saturday’s fights and Navarrete’s future
What makes Emanuel Navarrete so good?
Baby: Navarrete’s volume of activity doesn’t solely extend to the number of his ring appearances. When he climbs between the ropes, Navarrete’s not hesitant to throw punches.
That held true Saturday night, even against an opponent of Uriel Lopez’s caliber. Navarrete (32-1, 28 KOs) treated his move up to featherweight as if he were defending his WBO junior featherweight title.
Navarrete did a good job of pumping his jab, keeping his range and using his length to stay on the outside. And when Lopez did manage to get inside and close the distance, Navarrete maneuvered out of any potential trouble. The 25-year-old’s combination of volume punching and power has been evident as he became one of the world’s best 122-pounders. As he chases belts in other divisions, that should serve Navarrete well against bigger competition.
Kim: Navarrete is good, but he’s not a stylist. He is the consummate swarmer who makes up for a lack of perfect technique with volume of punches, activity and determination. But you have to wonder if he has been able to get away with this style of fighting because he has been matched favorably since defeating Isaac Dogboe for the title. Yes, Navarrete has been active — the win over Lopez is his sixth since December 2018 — but he hasn’t really faced anyone who could be considered a true world-class 122 pounder, or a real threat. The others holding world titles in this division — Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Danny Roman and Rey Vargas — have all faced better opposition to this point.
What should be next for Navarrete? Is it time for him to move up to featherweight and look for bigger challenges?
Baby: There’s no question Navarette needs to fight a quality opponent. He has done a great job of staying active and making his WBO belt available to challengers. But if he wants to become a multidivision world champion, he not only needs to move up to 126, but he needs to start testing himself against better competition.
Asking him to face a reigning champion as soon as he transitions to featherweight could be a relatively tall order. He could face someone like Jessie Magdaleno or Carl Frampton, two of ESPN’s top 10 featherweights, before going after top fighters like Shakur Stevenson or Josh Warrington. Like Navarrete, all four of those potential opponents are promoted by Top Rank, so it shouldn’t be difficult to make any of those fights.
Kim: Unless he can get one of the other belt holders at 122, such as Vargas (who holds the WBC title), or perhaps stick around long enough for bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue to go up in weight, Navarrete should move up. He admits that making the 122-pound limit is an excruciating process, and at age 25 his body is still growing. It might be time to move up to featherweight, where some intriguing matchups could be on the table for him, including Shakur Stevenson and Michael Conlan.
Stevenson is the WBO featherweight titlist and there is talk of him moving up to 130. By virtue of being a WBO champion at junior featherweight, Navarrete has a claim to getting a title shot within that organization, should he decide to move up. At 126, we might find out what Navarrete is really made of.
Who impressed you the most from Saturday’s undercard?
Baby: Sergio Sanchez is the no-brainer. Sanchez floored Gustavo Pina early and eventually scored a stunning, one-punch knockout when he threw an uppercut that immediately ended the bout. Sanchez (14-1, 8 KOs) earned the victory over Pena (8-3, 5 KOs), one of Sanchez’s few opponents who has had a respectable record. Sanchez has good size and was effective at landing over the top of Pina’s punches before the punch that ended the night. Let’s see what he has against better competition.
Kim: Sanchez, who scored a devastating one-punch KO of Pina with a perfectly placed hybrid left uppercut/hook in the third round. Pina was basically knocked out before he even landed on the canvas, and there was no need for the count. In his previous 10 outings, Pina had never been stopped, so he carried a reputation of being a durable fighter.
Sanchez is just 25 years old and he improved to 15-1, 9 KOs. He has good size for the featherweight division and has a knack for creating leverage with his front hand. He might not be technically perfect, but you can’t teach size and power — and he has a bit of both. He needs some polish, but at the very least you get the sense Sanchez will be in some entertaining battles down the line.