Emanuel Navarrete is in a hurry. Fast hands, CompuBox-busting punch volume, on to the next thing — quickly. He leaps into jabs, straight right hands and even sweeping hooks, the sooner to unspool his go-go gadget arms and put hands on his intended target. Let’s go. Glove up. Ring the bell. Patience? That’s for 12-rounders and Scorsese movies. ¡Apúrate, pendejo!
What’s driving Navarrete is anyone’s guess. At 24, he has time to waste if he were to choose — as so many live-fast hot-shit fighters do — to piss it away. But he does not. Since taking apart Isaac Dogboe a year ago Sunday, snatching away a junior featherweight title in the process, Navarrete has made four defenses — ending all of them punishingly early. How many beltholders fight five times inside a year? Canelo Alvarez takes longer to pick the tint on his Aviators.
Navarrete, from San Juan Zitlaltepec, near Mexico City, has cited his Mexican heritage and the national legends who have come before him as inspiration. But let’s be honest: That stuff gets you only so far. If national pride were enough, every Tomás, Diego and Jaime from Tijuana to Tapachula would be a WBC contender for one or another Silver or Diamond belt. (Right now, it only seems like that.) This kid embodies “Mexican style,” but he isn’t defined by it.
Here’s the most accurate way to describe Navarrete: down to party. There’s a certain type of dude who shows up at the cotillion while the finger sandwiches are still being served and immediately screams, “THE LINE FOR BUTT-CHUGGING STARTS HERE!” That’s Navarrete. He is “The Guns of Navarone.” He is “Intensity in 10 Cities.” And god bless him — he is always turned up to 11. The fighter’s gene is woven into his DNA. He loves this shit.
You didn’t have to look hard to see that on display in Saturday’s matchup with Francisco Horta at Auditorio GNP Seguros in Puebla, Mexico on ESPN+, which marked the first defense for Navarrete in his home country — and an opportunity to draw on a local following at a venue located not far from San Juan Zitlaltepec, which Navarrete still calls home. It wasn’t quite the MGM Grand or Madison Square Garden, but it probably meant as much to Navarrete to headline a show in his own ‘hood as the world’s legit shot-caller at 122 pounds. As a fighter, hearing your people call you jefe for a week, and then proving it in front of their very eyes, is something you can’t put a price on.
Navarrete (30-1, 26 KO) went against type early on with Horta (20-4-1, 10 KO), mostly measuring up his countryman rather than mauling him in a tornado of swinging leather. Probably for the best. Navarrete jabbed to calculate distance, went fishing with some random power shots and occasionally switched to southpaw to give his opponent something to think about — all while chucking (and landing) enough shots to safely walk away with round 1. Horta was left with little to lock into, nothing to time up and a bunch of oddball angles to worry over. Be sure to pour one out for him tonight. Facing the Mark Fidrych of fighters must be a fucking nightmare.
In the 2nd, Navarrete kept it weird, slinging from the hip, over the top, and in parabolas that your high school geometry teacher couldn’t have seen coming. At one point, Navarrete covered up in a position of extreme defensiveness and wheeled into a corner before firing a southpaw jab that landed like a hard cross. Then he flung a power left hand that looked like a hook with its own planetary orbit — a bomb that landed flush on Horta’s cheek. It was impossible to tell what the challenger was more stunned by: the physical blow or the physics of the blow. That was probably the beginning of the end.
Horta did his level best, but he was fighting Max Headroom — a hologram with a tic. Navarrete deked and feinted and double-feinted, swinging from such unconventional positions and with such unpredictable timing that Horta might as well have been trying to audition for a jazz band on a See ‘n Say. Except, in this case, a false note meant getting hit in the face: “The cow goes oof.”
In the 4th round, Navarrete cornered Horta, hemming him in with looping punches from both sides and drawing scrutiny from Roberto Ramirez Jr. for a potential stoppage. The fading challenger found an escape hatch and offered a last-ditch effort with a series of hooks, uppercuts and banging body shots — but Navarrete ate them all. Another lesson in centrifugal force — a hammer-throw of a left hand up top — seemed to drain the remaining will from Horta. He ducked, pivoted and blocked to the best of his ability, but Navarrete closed off every opening and kept firing until it was over. He SEAL Team Six’ed the poor son of a bitch. At 2:09 in Round 4, Ramirez stepped in to make the technical knockout official.
I won’t pretend to know all the bullshit promoter machinations involved at 122, or how long it might be before Navarrete moves up to 126, where he stands to make a mint operating in a deep, exciting division. Here’s what I do know: A fight with Danny Roman, unifying three of the junior featherweight belts, would be just peachy. Rey Vargas, another unification bout, makes a ton of sense and is probably a better on-paper matchup. But I’d throw your grandmother under a Greyhound bus to watch Navarrete take a crack at Guillermo Rigondeaux — a mind-blowing clash of styles at a weight that makes sense, which means it’ll never happen because Bob Arum hates both you and me and none of us will ever truly find love and goddammit someone just stop this stupid ride I wanna get off.
(Photo via Zanfer Promotions)