Emanuel Navarrete outlasted Liam Wilson in a back-and-forth slugfest on Friday night in Glendale, Arizona, to claim the vacant WBO junior lightweight title with a ninth-round TKO.
Navarrete, who is from Mexico, was floored by the 8-1 underdog in Round 4 — the first knockdown of his career — but rallied to score a knockdown in Round 9 with a looping right hand. There were more than two minutes remaining in the round, and Navarrete didn’t waste any time.
With Wilson wobbling around the ring, blood pouring from his nose, Navarrete (37-1, 31 KOs) pinned him on the ropes and unloaded punches. The referee finally halted the ESPN main event at 1:57 of Round 9 with Wilson on his feet.
“This was an amazing victory because it tested me,” Navarrete, now a three-division champion, said in remarks translated from Spanish. “I needed to know that I was capable of going to the canvas, getting up, and come out with the victory, and now I know.”
Navarrete, who was ahead on all three scorecards (77-74, 76-75 and 77-74) entering Round 9, was campaigning at 130 pounds for the first time. He was originally slated to fight Oscar Valdez before his countryman withdrew with a rib injury.
Valdez, a former two-division champion, entered the ring afterward to set the stage for a highly anticipated showdown with Navarrete later this year. Valdez’s return is targeted for May, sources told ESPN, in a tuneup bout coming off the injury.
Navarrete, meanwhile, was able to escape a pivotal Round 4 to keep the Valdez payday intact. Wilson (11-2, 7 KOs) was given little shot to find any success but did so when he connected on a stinging left hook late in the round. A bundle of follow-up shots sent Navarrete to the canvas hard.
But in a wily maneuver, Navarrete spit out his mouthpiece to buy precious recovery time. The referee accommodated him as 27 seconds passed between the moment he touched the canvas and the resumption of the action.
“I’m disappointed, but I knocked him down in the fourth round, and I believe the count was a bit longer,” said Wilson, who trained in Washington D.C. with respected coach Barry Hunter. “I thought I won the fight in that sense because I think it was about a 20-second count. I’ll be back. Make no mistake about it.”
Wilson could regret how Round 5 played out. Navarrete was still on unsteady legs, but Wilson didn’t take advantage, perhaps fatigued from the knockdown sequence. By the end of the round, Navarrete clearly found his bearings. He was suddenly cracking Wilson with his awkward yet effective punches that seemingly came from all angles.
Navarrete continued to pour on punishment in Round 6, but Wilson responded with another counter left hook that rocked the favorite. Only this time, Navarrete didn’t go down.
He began to swarm with power punches as Wilson searched for one fight-ending shot that never materialized. When Round 7 ended, the sustained offense appeared to finally impact Wilson, who was visibly hurt.
Navarrete sensed the end was near, and over the final two rounds, continued to push forward with nonstop punches. He finally broke through in Round 9 when a right hand dropped Wilson.
The Australian never recovered his balance, and as Navarrete threw punch after punch, the referee halted the action and ended the scare for the A-side fighter.
Navarrete, ESPN’s No. 1 boxer at 126 pounds, still holds the WBO featherweight title, but must formally decide which division he’ll campaign at moving forward.
Barboza dominates Pedraza
In the ESPN chief-support bout, Arnold Barboza picked up a career-best victory with a unanimous decision over Jose Pedraza in a 10-round junior welterweight fight.
The scores were 97-93, 96-94 and 96-94.
Barboza (28-0, 10 KOs) landed the cleaner, harder shots and dictated most of the action. The 31-year-old, who is rated No. 7 at 140 pounds by ESPN, is seeking his first title shot later this year.
Pedraza, a former champion at 130 and 135 pounds, is winless in his past three bouts. The 33-year-old Puerto Rican drew with Richard Commey in August.