Prizefighters are entertainers. And like all entertainers, their act has to be perfected. Normally that’s done at the gym. And normally we get crabby when we get practice instead of a show.
Saturday night from the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, televised on ESPN, junior featherweight Emanuel Navarrete (28-1, 24 KO) got in some practice against undefeated, but also unheralded, Francisco De Vaca.
It didn’t last long, and we didn’t learn much, but goddamn it was fun to watch. Navarrete blitzed De Vaca (20-1, 6KO) from the opening bell, and by the end of the first round it was obvious that De Vaca didn’t have the power, skill, or talent to trouble “Vaquero.”
Navarrete switched back and forth between orthodox and southpaw, constantly changing range and angles, completely befuddling De Vaca. Halfway through the second round, Navarrete unloaded a right and left uppercut, followed by a hard right hook that dropped De Vaca. The fight was over in all but technicality, and it was obvious that it had been over since before it started. Navarrete was playing, but the glee was predatory.
One minute into the third round, with De Vaca flailing back to the ropes and in way over his head, referee Raul Caiz mercifully waved off the bout.
Navarrete is in a great position. Junior featherweight is stacked, as is featherweight, and several of the best possibilities are with Top Rank and ESPN. And oh, by the way, Luis Nery and Naoya Inoue are just four pounds below and will most likely move up in the next year. The Monster versus a 5’8″ switch-hitting power puncher with a 72″ reach, great chin, and fantastic boxing craft? Yes, Please. For now though, let’s just enjoy watching a wonderful artist explore his extent of his powers.
On the undercard, Jessie Magdaleno (27-1, 18 KO) got his second win since moving up to featherweight, getting a unanimous technical decision over rugged gatekeeper Rafael Rivera (27-4-2, 18 KO). Magdaleno has been working on a more defensively responsible style since getting stopped by Isaac Dogboe in 2018, and it doesn’t quite suit him yet. A bit like a newly formed band struggling to find a cohesive rhythm, Magdaleno’s early-round troubles were often the cause of the time lag between his offense stopping and his defense being in place. Rivera was able to exacerbate that gap by constantly being on top of Magdaleno chucking every punch except a jab, and plenty of forearms and headbutts as well. In fairness, orthodox versus southpaw fights often become tangled and awkward, but Rivera was very happy to steer into that skid. In the fourth round, a butt caused a gash on the bridge of Magdaleno’s nose.
By the mid-rounds, though, Magdaleno had found his timing and began getting some space before letting Rivera spear himself face-first into straight lefts. When Rivera was able to trap Magdaleno against the ropes, short left and right hooks did the damage. Magdaleno badly hurt Rivera with a left hook in the seventh and dropped him with one at the end of a sizzling exchange in the ninth. Shortly thereafter, a back elbow from Rivera in a clinch opened a nasty gash over Magdaleno’s right eye. Despite referee Thomas Taylor’s slightly cavalier approach, the ringside physician advised the fight be stopped. They went to the cards and Magdaleno was awarded a unanimous technical decision with scores of 88-82, and 89-91 (x2).
Magdaleno may never live up to the promise he showed as a prospect, but he’s a very capable fighter, and at only 27, he can be in the mix at featherweight and junior lightweight for a while.
(Photo by Mikey Williams for Top Rank)