Former super bantamweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete (31-1, 27 KOs) will attempt to become a two weight world champion when he faces Ruben Villa (18-0, 5 KOs) for the WBO featherweight title in Las Vegas on Friday night.
Navarrete came to prominence when he upset and beat up the previously undefeated Isaac Dogboe in back to back fights to win the WBO super bantamweight belt. He’s been a very active champion since then and defended his belt three times. His opposition wasn’t the best in those defenses but he did what a champion is supposed to do in that case and stopped every one of his challengers. Navarrete dipped his toe into the featherweight pool in his first fight after quarantine when he stopped .500 journeyman Uriel Lopez in 6.
His opponent on Friday will be a much stiffer test, Ruben Villa came very close to making the 2016 Olympic team but lost to eventual silver medalist Shakur Stevenson (against whom he is 2-2) at the Olympic trials. Villa turned pro after the trials and went 18-0 against some increasingly tough competition.
Stylistically, it should be an interesting matchup between the solid defense and outside boxing of Villa and the relentless pressure of Navarrete. Villa likes to use his footwork and good head movement to potshot his opponents at distance with his very accurate southpaw jab and left hand. Navarrete likes to pressure and batter his opposition with volume punching. Navarrete sometimes takes a few rounds to get going and Villa could build an early lead but the key of the fights will be whether or not he can keep him at bay in the middle rounds. His defensive skills and accuracy give him a chance to do it, but it would be a better one if his punching power was a bit more dissuasive. Otherwise he’ll get dragged into the kind of war of attrition Navarrete thrives in. I’m leaning towards Navarrete, but the result is less interesting to me in that match up than the way each fighter will answer the questions asked of them by the style match up.
In the middleweight co-main event former amateur world champion Janibek Alimkhanuly (8-0, 4 KOs) will face Gonzalo Gaston Coria (16-3, 6 KOs). Coria doesn’t seem to have the skills to trouble the Kazakh southpaw too much but he’s never been stopped and should be able to at least give some rounds to the potential future contender.
Similarly the rest of the undercard is filled with young prospects in learning fights, but there’s been far worse Friday fight offerings than a decent, intriguing and hopefully competitive title fight and a chance to watch an up and coming former amateur world champion.
Full fight card
Main Card – ESPN – 10:00pm ET / 7:00pm PT
Ruben Villa vs. Emanuel Navarrete
Gonzalo Gaston Coria vs. Janibek Alimkhanuly
Elvis Rodriguez vs. Cameron Krael
Sonny Duversonne vs. Lorenzo Simpson
Preliminary Card – ESPN+ – 7:30pm ET / 4:30pm PT
Bryan Lua vs. Nelson Colon
Steve Garagarza vs. Rashiem Jefferson
Akeem Jackson vs. Kahshad Elliot