Emanuel Navarrete happy as champion, but not content

A big celebration didn’t await Emanuel Navarrete when his life changed forever.

The day after Navarrete won the WBO 122-pound title in an upset victory over Isaac Dogboe in December 2018, he got on a plane and went back to San Juan Zitlaltepec — Navarrete’s hometown, located roughly 50 miles north of Mexico City. At a small gathering with friends and family, they had dinner and talked about the experience.

After five title defenses, the celebrations have remained the same, except for the occasional visit from one of Navarrete’s sponsors. But that doesn’t mean they’ve gotten old.

Starting with the 2018 win over Dogboe, Navarrete (31-1, 27 KOs), now 25 years old, established himself as one of boxing’s promising young stars. Navarrete will look to continue his climb with a non-title fight against Uriel Lopez (13-13-1, 6 KOs) that headlines Saturday’s Top Rank card on ESPN (11 p.m. ET).

“A lot of things have changed since I became champion,” Navarrete said through a translator.

“But talking about the boxing side, the promoters and the big companies see me as a great champion, now. And that feels very good to me.”

It’s a stark contrast from how Navarrete was viewed heading into his first fight against Dogboe. At the time, Dogboe was undefeated, had just signed a multifight deal with Top Rank and was considered one of the promotional company’s rising stars. On the flip side, Navarrete’s first shot at a major title also was his first time in the United States.

Against Dogboe at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, Navarrete used his reach and power to batter the Ghanaian and scored a fairly comfortable unanimous decision.

“We underestimated him a little bit,” Dogboe said in the ring afterward.

In the rematch five months later, familiarity didn’t help Dogboe. Navarrete was even more dominant and earned an 11th-round stoppage that cemented his place as one of the top 122-pounders in the world.

Since then, Navarrete has stood out against lesser competition, as he remains one of the most active fighters in the sport. After the second victory over Dogboe, Navarrete successfully defended his title four times over a seven-month span. All four victories were knockouts.

“He’s a real warrior and he loves nothing better than to fight,” Top Rank CEO Bob Arum said in December 2019 before Navarrete beat Francisco Horta. “And he doesn’t care who the opponent is. He’s going to go in and fight.”

But Navarrete wants more. And his days in his current weight class may be limited.

Navarrete said he wants to eventually move up to featherweight and junior lightweight to face the likes of fellow champions such as Shakur Stevenson, Josh Warrington, Leo Santa Cruz and the undefeated Oscar Valdez.

“Including the belt I have right now at junior featherweight, I want to conquer two more divisions,” Navarrete said. “That’s what I see myself in three to five years, becoming a three-division champion.”

“El Vaquero” didn’t flinch at the opportunity to fight despite the restrictions in place by the coronavirus. Instead of training in Tijuana as he’s accustomed to, Navarrete worked with his uncle Pedro Navarrete and Pedro’s son, Pedro Jr., in Mexico City to prepare for Saturday’s bout against Lopez, who is coming off three straight losses. That includes a defeat at the hands of Jeo Santisima, whom Navarrete stopped in an 11th-round TKO victory back in February.

While the pandemic has allowed Navarrete to spend more time at home with his family, including his 5-year-old son, Ian, training has been difficult as quality sparring partners have been hard to come by. But for the champion, the added degree of difficulty was worth it, as he hopes to take advantage of an increased spotlight given the lack of live sports around the world.

“It’s still the same for me,” Navarrete said. “I enjoy getting ready for the fight. I give my 100 percent in every single fight because every single fight is important for me. So I still enjoy mostly the same way as when I became champion the first time.”

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