Emanuel Navarrete was nowhere near at his best. The WBO featherweight world titlist looked rusty after 10 months out of the ring. He had a brutal weight cut. And he had a determined opponent in Mexican countryman Eduardo Baez in front of him on Saturday night.
After the fifth round, Navarrete’s trainer, his uncle Pedro Navarrete, knew the fight was getting away from him and there was urgency. He let him know that he needed to pick things up.
Navarrete listened — and, boy, did he listen well.
He went out in the sixth round and landed a paralyzing left hook to the body for a one-punch knockout to retain his 126-pound title for the third time in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card at Pechanga Arena in San Diego.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) August 21, 2022
“I expected a fight like this,” Navarrete said through an interpreter. “I never underestimated Eduardo Baez. I knew that he was an excellent fighter and the fact that he hit pretty hard. It was a lot more complicated than I anticipated. But then came that shot, and I was able to finish him.”
Baez did not appear have a whole lot of steam on his punches, but he landed enough to give Navarrete (36-1, 30 KOs), 27, all kinds of problems. Baez also was outboxing Navarrete and showed toughness against an obviously rusty Navarrete, who did not appear to be in ideal condition.
Going into the sixth round, Baez was ahead 50-45 on judge Zachary Young’s card and 48-47 Lou Moret’s, but Pat Russell incredibly had Navarrete leading 49-46, which seemed wildly off base.
But Navarrete, a former junior featherweight titlist before vacating to move up in weight, made it all irrelevant in the sixth round when he fired a right uppercut and followed with a brutal left hook to Baez’s liver. He took a step back and went down to one knee in agony on a delayed reaction.
Baez remained motionless on his knee as referee Jack Reiss counted him out at 1 minute, 5 seconds. After Reiss waved off the fight, Baez fell to all fours and then fell over onto his back as he tried to shake off the obvious pain from the punch.
“That’s a very Mexican punch,” Navarrete said of the body blow. “It comes with my blood. And you can see, I don’t throw a perfect left hook like you’re used to seeing. But this one came out perfect for me. And you saw the result because not many guys can take that shot.”
The fight was the first for Navarrete under a new multi-year deal he signed with co-promoter Top Rank. Given the difficulty of making weight there is a chance Navarrete will move up to the 130-pound junior lightweight division next.
There are major fights Top Rank can offer him, including against unified champion Shakur Stevenson or former titlist Oscar Valdez. Top Rank chairman Bob Arum has been vocal about his interest in matching Valdez and Navarrete.
Navarrete said he has not decided what he will do but admitted he had a hard time making weight.
“I’m not going to deny those 10 months away from the ring made it tough for me. At the end of the day, coming down and melting myself to 126 pounds was difficult,” Navarrete said.
Baez (21-3-2, 7 KOs), 26, dropped to 1-2 in his last three fights, having lost a majority decision to junior featherweight contender Ra’eese Aleem in November 2021 before rebounding for a majority decision over Jose Vivas on March 26 on a Top Rank undercard.