By Stewart Flaherty: Mexican champion Emanuel ‘El Vaquero’ Navarette impressed in his successful defense of the WBO featherweight title and Ring Magazine #1 status over game opponent Joet Gonzalez at Pechanga Arena in San Diego on Friday night.
IN THE RED CORNER – EMANUEL NAVARETTE
Navarette came into this bout ranked by Ring Magazine as the world’s best featherweight, and also defending his WBO World Featherweight Championship that was won via unanimous decision over Ruben Villa in the fall of 2020.
Carrying a record of 34-1, El Vaquero shot to the top of the featherweight rankings with a technical knockout of Christopher Diaz in the spring. The fight with Diaz was another chapter in the storied Mexico vs Puerto Rico rivalry, with a partisan crowd in attendance largely in favor of Diaz. Navarette rose to the occasion with an impressive performance, knocking down his opponent three times before finishing the bout with a flurry of 10 unanswered blows that caused the fourth and final knockdown in the last minute of the allotted 12 rounds.
One of the Diaz knockdowns was caused by the signature lead left uppercut that Navarette has used to devastating effect throughout his career, paired with a strong jab that was to be amplified by a slight reach advantage over Gonzalez.
Another eye-catching result for Navarette ahead of this clash was his win in the junior featherweight division against then #2 WBO contender Miguel Elorde in 2019 on the undercard of Tyson Fury v Otto Wallin. In his Las Vegas debut, Navarette blew away Elorde (who carried a 28-1 record into the fight) inside of four rounds.
IN THE BLUE CORNER – JOET GONZALEZ
Los Angeles-born challenger Joet Gonzalez would be fighting in front of a home-state crowd but came in as the underdog, ranked #10 in the Ring featherweight rankings. After dropping a unanimous decision grudge match to undefeated Shakur Stevenson in 2019, Gonzalez responded with an impressive unanimous decision win over Miguel Marriaga in September 2020. Now, after a year layoff, Gonzalez was provided with an opportunity here to win gold and soar to the top of the featherweight rankings if he could pull off the victory.
Before the loss to Stevenson, Gonzalez registered one of his most important victories when he knocked out Manuel Avila in the 6th round of their 2019 bout. A year earlier, Gonzalez had announced himself as a featherweight contender with a split decision victory over Rafael Rivera.
Navarette started the fight on the front foot with offensive flurries while Gonzalez moved behind his defensive shell launching counterattacks. In the final minute of the opening round with Navarette taking the ascendancy, Gonzalez tapped his gloves together and upped his offense.
After the opening round, Gonzalez was warned by his father and trainer Jose that Navarette was trying to set his opponent up with the left hand, while the corner of Navarette told their fighter to be careful of Gonzalez lunging forward and leading with his head.
Gonzalez pulled his trunks up as he walked out for the second round before unleashing an offensive barrage that would be a precursor of a better round for the challenger. Navarette continued to launch thudding, singular blows that started to cause bruising around the right eye of the challenger.
In the corner, Navarette told his trainer and cousin Pedro Navarette Jr. “I’m still not adjusted to his style, he’s a little awkward to me.” The trainer warned his fighter that the referee was being lenient with headbutts and to be aware and cautious. In the corner of the challenger, Jose Gonzalez advised his son not to open his hands when he was pushed by his opponent.
Through the first two rounds of an entertaining affair, Navarette landed 22 of 120 total punches, and Gonzalez found the target with 19 of 101.
Navarette took back the upper hand in the third stanza with a dominant spell, including a vicious left hook that opened up a cut under the right eye of Gonzalez. El Vaquero poured on the pressure as the round progressed, forcing the corner of Gonzalez to work profusely to close the cut between rounds as ESPN announcer Andre Ward speculated whether the orbital socket of Gonzalez was fractured.
In the fourth round, Navarette started in the ascendance once again, pawing jabs at the cut under the right eye of Gonzalez before opening up a second cut on the eyebrow with some powerful blows. In the last minute of the round, Gonzalez showed he was still in the battle by landing a stinging right hand and peppering Navarette with blows before the bell rang.
That late flurry appeared to give Gonzalez a foothold in the fight and a hard-fought round five played out with Navarette showing signs of discomfort and complaining to referee Ray Corona about a potential headbutt. Late in the round, Navarette found a home for some heavy blows, likely edging a very tight round in his favor and opening a lead on the scorecards.
In the corner, Jose Gonzalez implored his son to keep working the left hand as cutman Mike ‘The Mechanic’ Bazzel continued to stem the blood flow from mounting facial injuries. Despite the accumulating damage, Gonzalez remained in the fight, landing 59 of 254 punches in reply to 75 of 349 from Navarette through the first five rounds.
The sixth round was a successful one for Navarette, who connected with 27 punches, almost doubling the 15 scoring blows of Gonzalez during the period. Once again, despite being on the back foot for most of the round, Gonzalez came on strong in the final minute. The hometown fighter backed Navarette onto the ropes with a right-handed body shot, before the champion replied with a combination that began with a left foot feint opening up Gonzalez for a heavy right hand.
Things started to look ominous for Gonzalez in the opening moments of round seven, as Navarette effortlessly landed heavy blows that included his signature left uppercut. Gonzalez tapped his gloves together and attacked, catching an off-balance Navarette and wobbling him in the corner a minute into the round. Navarette recovered and won the round once again with a number of heavy blows, including an uppercut that rocked back the head of Gonzalez in the final minute of the round. Through seven rounds, the increased offensive output was showing statistically as the Mexican fighter landed 125 of 526 punches, in contrast, to 86 of 353 from Gonzalez.
Gonzalez went on the front foot, quite literally to start the eighth round, as his lead foot stepped on the toes of Navarette and tripped the champion to the ground. For the remainder of the round, Gonzalez dragged El Vaquero into a close-quarters brawl that halted any momentum and won Gonzalez only his second round on the scorecard of this author.
The corner of Gonzalez saw an opportunity and with renewed hope, assistant trainer Joe Gonzalez pointed out that Navarette was showing signs of fatigue with his hands on the ropes. Push him back, he has no experience going backwards,” Joe implored as Bazzell continued to stem bleeding.
With the words of his brother ringing in his ears, Gonzalez stalked forward behind his defensive shell, causing an uncomfortable Navarette to complain about a low blow before continuing to throw punches as El Vaquero threw heavy counters. Despite being on the back foot for most of the round, Navarette continued to land and interrupt any momentum Gonzalez gained, with both fighters landing significant blows as the bell rang and sent the fight into the final quarter.
The corner of Gonzalez continued to focus on the cuts and swelling between rounds, applying so much grease that referee Corona delayed the start of the 10th round, ordering Bazzell to remove some excess vaseline.
After the delay, the fight quickly exploded into life again as Navarette exploded onto the front foot before stopping to complain yet again about a low blow, only to eat a right hand to the face as referee Corona allowed the fight to continue. Navarette swung back angrily and the pair exchanged blows before Gonzalez landed another low blow that caused Navarette to back up to the ropes and go down. Referee Corona showed no sympathy, ordering Navarette to get up and fight on despite replies confirming the punch to be below the belt. Regaining his composure, Navarette continued to land punches and put yet another 10-9 round in the bank for the scorecards.
Champion Navarette went down in the first minute of the opening round, but for a second time in the fight it was caused by a trip as the lead foot of Gonzalez stood on the toes of the champion. When Navarette got back up, the pair traded blows as Gonzalez hid his battered face behind a high guard and relentlessly stalked forward in search of an opening. Navarette continued to land scoring blows while Gonzalez gamely threw back with attacks that included two clean right-handed shots.
With a battered face and blood-splattered white shorts, Gonzalez entered the final round likely knowing he needed a knockout to win, but Navarette matched him punch for punch. The two warriors traded heavy shots as the fight drew to a close, bringing the crowd to their feet in respect as the final bell rang.
After the fight, Gonzalez was paraded around the ring by his corner with arms aloft, but the facial damage on display told the real story, with the judges awarding a unanimous decision win to champion Navarette by scores of 118-110, 116-112, and 116-112. The fight statistics fell in line with the scorecards, with Navarette landing 272 of 979 blows as opposed to 169 of 667 from Gonzalez.
WHAT THEY SAID
Speaking through an interpreter, Navarette acknowledged that this was his toughest fight since his sole career loss in 2012, saying Joet exceeded expectations, he is a great fighter.”
Gonzalez expressed disappointment with the scorecards, saying he believed he won the fight, citing that he rocked Navarette with some heavy blows in the fourth round.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE WINNER
Navarette moved up to featherweight to land big-name opposition and did suggest in the spring that if he failed in that bid he could move up again to junior lightweight. “There are a lot of good fighters at 126 but none of them really want to fight me,” the Mexican fighter told RingTV. “In the end, if nobody wants to fight me at 126 I need to analyze the landscape at 130 pounds and look for a good fight there.”
Oscar Valdez, Gary Russell Jr., and Leo Santa Cruz have been named as preferred opposition, or El Vaquero could look across the Atlantic to UK duo Josh Warrington and Kid Galahad (if he comes through his fight against Kiko Martinez in November. Fellow Mexican Mauricio Lara is another top opponent and is coming off a win and draw against Warrington in the last 12 months. Should Navarette choose to move up in weight, countryman Oscar Valdez, Miguel Berchelt, or undefeated American duo Chris Colbert and Stevenson would be big draw bouts.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE LOSER
While on the wrong end of the judges’ decision, Gonzalez fought gamely and should have little trouble attracting interest for his next fight. An all-American clash against Jesse Magdaleno could be a good option, or Englishman Leigh Wood can provide a stiff challenge. ESPN announcer Andre Ward summarized the sentiment behind high potential interest in the next fight for Gonzalez. “He’s gonna lose this fight but I think he’s won the hearts of a lot of people and a lot of respect from the boxing community,” said the former pound-for-pound king.
Authors Scorecard (round by round)
Stewart Flaherty is a Boxing, Football, and Soccer freelance writer who can be reached on Twitter @stewartflaherty