Ringside Seat – Emanuel Navarrete goes for another title, Ruben Villa for his first; Elvis Rodriguez is back
Oct 7, 2020
The boxing world is catching its collective breath following a fight for the ages on Saturday between Jose Zepeda and Ivan Baranchyk. The pair channeled Naseem Hamed-Kevin Kelley, Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti I and a bit of George Foreman-Ron Lyle all in the span of five rounds.
But with Zepeda’s hard-earned victory in a fight of the year contender now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead at a week that features three nights of fights, including a Friday night clash for the vacant featherweight belt most recently held by Shakur Stevenson.
Emanuel Navarrete is only a few months removed from being a world titlist at 122 pounds and as he takes on Ruben Villa in Las Vegas, he’s looking to instantly establish himself as a top fighter at 126. And while the scheduled bout between Sergey Lipinets and Kudratillo Abdukakhorov, which was supposed to take place on Saturday night, was backed up two weeks to allow Abdukakhorov to obtain a visa, there are still a pair of cards to watch, starting with the return of the development-focused ShoBox: The New Generation series on Wednesday, and a London card on Saturday night.
FridayVilla stepping up for title bout with NavarreteRuben Villa, above, looks for his first title in a battle against Emanuel Navarrete on Friday. Emily Harney/Banner Promotions
With Stevenson vacating the WBO featherweight title, it looked as though former WBO 122-pound titlist Navarrete’s move up to challenge for that title would match him up against Jessie Magdaleno. But as Magdaleno balked, unhappy with his portion of the purse, the call went to Villa.
Villa, one of ESPN’s 25 best fighters under the age of 25, didn’t hesitate to accept the fight, and now they meet on Friday night inside the Top Rank bubble at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
Top Rank Boxing is on ESPN and ESPN+. Subscribe to ESPN+ to get exclusive boxing events, weigh-ins and more.
Friday, noon ET on ESPN+: Viktor Kotochigov vs. Maxi Hughes, 10 rounds, lightweights
Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+: Emanuel Navarrete vs. Ruben Villa full undercard
Friday, 10 p.m. ET on ESPN: Emanuel Navarrete vs. Ruben Villa, 12 rounds, for the vacant WBO featherweight title
“I was a little surprised,” he said of Magdaleno’s decision to bypass the title shot. “He had just come off a win — you win and you fight for a world title. That’s usually how it goes.”
At that point Villa (18-0, 5 KOs) had no fight scheduled, but he had been in the gym consistently. He was aided by stablemate Ruben Cervera, who has fought twice inside the Top Rank bubble over the summer. But this wasn’t exactly the way Villa thought he’d get a world title shot.
“I felt like we would be ready for a world title eliminator, or even a title fight at the end of 2020, and then COVID hit,” said Villa, a sharpshooting southpaw stylist. “So we didn’t know what would happen next. So I just stayed in shape, stayed in the gym, and then we got the call.”
Villa said there will be no excuses about this being a late-notice fight, and that he feels as prepared as he could be to take on Navarrete.
“I feel like I’m ready and I’m in my prime,” he says. “I feel it’s the best chance for me to go, right now. I’m ready, we’re very confident about winning this fight. So yeah, I’m ready as can be.”
Villa is not a power puncher, but he’s a skilled technical fighter who has modeled his style after unified lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko. This should be an intriguing matchup, given that Navarrete generates a windmill of punches as he swings away relentlessly. Villa will have plenty of opportunities to counterpunch Navarrete, but it will be difficult to keep him off for 12 full rounds.
“I never really thought I’d be facing him, but it’s business,” said Villa, who says he is an admirer of Navarrete. “If I wasn’t fighting, I’d be excited to see this fight. So I’m just excited to be in this fight and show what I’ve got.”
Top Rank highlights a pair of prospectsplay
Welterweight prospect Elvis Rodriguez cracks Cody Wilson with a stiff left hand for a third-round TKO.
Friday’s Top Rank card features two highly touted prospects in junior welterweight Elvis Rodriguez (9-0-1, 9 KOs), who faces Cameron Krael (17-16-3, 4 KOs), and middleweight Lorenzo “Truck” Simpson (8-0, 5 KOs), who takes on Sanny Duversonne (11-0-2, 8 KOs).
Rodriguez left his mark inside the Top Rank bubble, scoring a trio of highlight-reel knockouts over the summer. Relatively unknown just a few months ago, “The Dominican Kid” is now considered a legitimate blue-chip prospect. In Krael, he’s facing a boxing journeyman with a reputation of providing a true test for young boxers.
Simpson, 20, is a strong, physical technician who recently signed an advisory deal with MTK Global. He had a decorated amateur career but made the decision to turn pro in December 2018, a first-round TKO victory over Deandre West. Simpson, who defeated Alex Sandro Duarte by TKO in Round 1 in July, boxes out of the southpaw stance and is an aggressive technician who doesn’t hesitate to throw body punches and lets his hands go liberally. He is a top American prospect.
The full card
Emanuel Navarrete vs. Ruben Villa, 12 rounds, for the vacant WBO featherweight title
Joseph Adorno vs. TBA, 10 rounds, lightweights
Elvis Rodriguez vs. Cameron Krael, 8 rounds, junior welterweights
Lorenzo Simpson vs. Sanny Duversonne, 8 rounds, middleweights
Gonzalo Coria vs. Janibek Alimkhanuly, 10 rounds, middleweights
Bryan Lua vs. Nelson Colon, 6 rounds, lightweights
Steve Garagarza vs. Rashiem Jefferson, 4 rounds, featherweights
Kahshad Elliott vs. Akeem Jackson, 4 rounds, junior middleweights
SaturdayLiam Williams steps into London headlinerLiam Williams, above, faces Andrew Robinson on Saturday, looking for a title opportunity with a win. James Chance/Getty Images
Middleweight Liam Williams (22-2-1, 17 KOs) is in action as he defends his British middleweight title against Andrew Robinson at the BT Sports Studio in London.
Williams, who is rated third by the WBC and second by the WBO in the division, is a rugged, hard-nosed fighter. He’s also one of the most improved fighters in the sport over the past three years. Since consecutive losses to Liam Smith in 2017, he has reeled off six straight stoppage victories.
He’s an aggressive fighter who has a fan-friendly style, and if he continues his current pace, he will be lined up for a world title shot sooner than later. While Williams might be considered an underdog against any of the other current belt-holders at 160, he’ll acquit himself very well, given the chance.
The full card
Liam Williams vs. Andrew Robinson, 12 rounds, for Williams’ British middleweight title
James Metcalf vs. Jack Flatley, 12 rounds, for Metcalf’s Commonwealth junior middleweight title
Willy Hutchinson vs. Jose Miguel Fandino, 10 rounds, super middleweights
Nathan Gorman vs. Richard Lartey, 10 rounds, heavyweights
Mark Chamberlain vs. Shaun Cooper, 8 rounds, lightweights
Muheeb Fazeldin vs. Luke Jones, 6 rounds, junior lightweights
Micky Burke Jr. vs. Dan Booth, 4 rounds, welterweights
Editor’s note: The following entries were written prior to Wednesday night’s event.
WednesdayThe return of Brandun LeeWelterweight Brandun Lee, left, is fighting for the first time since March. Stephanie Trapp/Showtime
Lightweight prospect Brandun Lee (19-0, 17 KOs), who faces veteran Jimmy Williams (16-3-2, 5 KOs) in a scheduled eight-rounder on ShoBox (Showtime 9 p.m. ET) at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, was one of the last fighters in action before the worldwide pandemic shut down boxing for months.
Follow us on Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date with all of our latest boxing news.
Lee scored a third-round stoppage of Camilo Prieto at the Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minnesota, on March 13. It was one of the last sporting events held before lockdown and one of the first to go without a live audience.
As Lee prepares to fight on Wednesday under similar circumstances, he believes his experience in March will be key, “because I’ve already been there, done that. I’ve already fought without a crowd. I know what to expect.”
Just because he fought in a crowdless venue once, it doesn’t mean everything’s gone according to plan. When the 21-year-old Lee defeated Prieto in March, he, like many others, assumed that this moment in time would quickly pass, and that he’d be back in the ring by at least the early summer.
“Now, I’m fighting in October,” he pointed out. “It’s been about six months.”
Lee is grateful to be back out there, and in Williams, he’s facing his sternest test as a professional as he looks to push his undefeated record to 20 straight wins.
“I do think this is the best fighter I’ve fought to date,” said Lee, who is three and a half years into his pro career. “Once upon a time he was top 15 in the world, and I think this is the right step up for my career. I need this.”
Conwell’s back in actionCharles Conwell, above, faces Wendy Toussaint in the main event of a ShoBox: The Next Generation on Wednesday. Alex Menendez/Getty Images
While Lee was able to get a fight in under the wire, junior middleweight Charles Conwell (12-0, 9 KOs) had his April 10 date on ShoBox taken off the board. Five months later, he’s set to headline Wednesday’s card against Wendy Toussaint (12-0, 5 KOs) in a 10-round battle of undefeated fighters.
“It was disappointing,” Conwell said of having to wait for a fight. “You’ve been training for a fight for so long, and then it’s canceled on you. You put your body through so much stress, so much work, and you’re not going to go out there and perform, and do what you were supposed to do.”
While he sat at home uncertain of when his next fight would come, the 22-year-old native of Cleveland welcomed a daughter into his family. It was a mix of emotions, as he worried about when the next paycheck would come in but enjoyed the time he spent at home.
“Bills [are] steadily coming, bills don’t stop. You’ve got to take care of family and friends. You want to enjoy yourself,” Conwell said. “So I got a little antsy, I wanted to get in there earlier. But I think this is the perfect time for me to get in there. I got a nice break, got my mind, body and soul together. So I’m ready to get back in there.”
Charles Conwell vs. Wendy Toussaint, 10 rounds, middleweights
Isaiah Steen vs. Kalvin Henderson, 8 rounds, super middleweights
Janelson Figueroa Bocachica vs. Nicklaus Flaz, 8 rounds, welterweights
Brandun Lee vs. Jimmy Williams, 8 rounds, welterweights