From Anthony Joshua’s highlight reel knockout to the potential Fight of the Year between Emanuel Navarrete and Oscar Valdez, Saturday’s boxing action delivered. Mike Coppinger looks at the memorable moments in Arizona while Nick Parkinson explains why Joshua’s victory didn’t send a complete message.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — An all-out slugfest was promised when Emanuel Navarrete and Oscar Valdez first engaged in talks last year, and when they finally met on Saturday, they more than delivered.
Round after round, the pair of Mexican brawlers furiously exchanged fists in front of a boxing-crazed crowd of more than 10,000, mostly there to support Valdez, who lived in Tucson, Arizona, during his childhood.
Valdez continued to press forward, even when he couldn’t see due to a swollen eye, with desperation left hooks he hoped would swing the fight in his favor. But he must have known he was in for a long night when he connected flush with a counter left hand in Round 2 that simply bounced off a grinning Navarrete.
Navarrete unleashed more than 1,000 punches to retain his WBO junior lightweight title in thrilling fashion in the main event. And there’s little doubt now that “Vaquero” is the top 130-pounder in the world.
The nonstop action begs for a rematch, but the lopsided scores in favor of Navarrete don’t. Next up for Navarrete should be a fresh matchup, but junior lightweight is one of boxing’s weakest weight classes, so Top Rank might need to be a bit creative.
One natural fight is a unification with Wales’ Joe Cordina, who already owns a quality win over Shavkat Rakhimov along with a highlight-reel KO of Kenichi Ogawa last year.
Another possibility, though probably farther down the line, is a fight against featherweight champion Robeisy Ramirez. And maybe even a bout with lightweight contender William Zepeda, who also throws upward of 1,000 punches a fight.
Navarrete seems to grow into each new weight class he enters, so it says here he’ll find success at 135 pounds, too.
But for now, Navarrete can enjoy the fruit of his best win yet. The boxing world knew Navarrete was a reliable action fighter, but now that he defeated Valdez in convincing fashion, it’s clear he’s more than just a brawler.
Navarrete’s chin, even at his third weight class, appears formidable, even after he was floored by major underdog Liam Wilson in February. His punch output, despite the heavier weight, can’t hold him back either.
Sure, Navarrete isn’t being matched with slick boxers, and he might have a lot of trouble with them. But against fighters who love to exchange, like Valdez, Navarrete is simply too much. His star is growing in a sport that rewards entertainment above all else, while Valdez will likely find himself as a stepping stone if he continues. Valdez was valiant and respectful in defeat, even apologizing to his fans, but it’s clear he’s on the downslope after yet another punishing fight.
Valdez suffered a broken jaw vs. Scott Quigg in 2018 and has been on the deck many times. He’s never been counted out, but with his right eye swollen shut and the rest of his face showing the wear of a taxing fight, it’s hard to see where he goes from here — especially when it comes to a title shot.
Time to show us some more, Richard Torrez
Olympic silver medalist Richard Torrez Jr., continued his string of explosive knockouts with a first-round stoppage of journeyman Willie Jake Jr. Now, it’s time to raise Torrez’s competition to the next level as Top Rank continues to develop the heavyweight hopeful.
Torrez is charismatic and loves to brawl, so Top Rank’s matchmakers will no doubt be careful as they try to keep his undefeated record intact and march him slowly but surely toward a heavyweight title shot.
The plan is for Torrez to fight one more time in 2023 and hopefully that bout will come against an opponent who will force him to show other wrinkles to his game and maybe even face some adversity. Now, Torrez still won’t face any familiar faces in his next few fights — he’s still too raw. It might take another year until he reaches that point, but that’s the primary job of the matchmakers at Top Rank as they remain steadfast on building the right path for the Olympian. — Coppinger
What sort of message did Anthony Joshua send to Deontay Wilder?
LONDON — While the seventh round finish of Robert Helenius looked devastating, for much of the fight on Saturday, Joshua was ponderous and cautious. Then, it was as if we had gone back in time watching Joshua deliver a knockout win at the O2 Arena.
A massive right hand ended the nontitle heavyweight fight in an instant, leaving Helenius stretched out on the canvas. This was the venue where Joshua began his professional career in October 2013 following his gold medal triumph at the 2012 Olympics, and where he won his first world heavyweight title fight against Charles Martin in April 2019.
Against Helenius, Joshua eventually looked more like the destructive fighter he was in two reigns as world heavyweight champion (seven defenses in total, winning WBA, IBF and WBO belts). But for much of the fight Joshua was reluctant to throw more than single punches against an opponent who has never fought for a world title. In rounds three and six, the crowd began to boo with impatience at a lack of action.
“I was just following a game plan, one step at a time,” Joshua said after the fight. “It’s a breaking down job, I did it in the end. I felt better than I did in April [after outpointing Jermaine Franklin]. This is competitive boxing, we are trying to shut each other down. It’s a game of chess. It’s a thinking man’s sport. Why am I going to trade from round one? I’m going to break him down.
“Helenius is a very good operator, he set some obstacles for me to overcome. I’m happy to get the win and lead me to something spectacular.”
But if Joshua can’t be confident enough to let his hands go, with free flowing combinations against a fighter like Helenius, can we expect the English boxer to do it against the most dangerous puncher in the heavyweight division when he is expected to take on Deontay Wilder in January? Or is the current version of Joshua still capable of beating Wilder with his patient, no-risk approach if a deal is struck for the two former world heavyweight champions to face each other in Saudi Arabia?
Joshua used to let his hands go in nearly every fight, but a shock stoppage loss to Andy Ruiz in 2019 seemed to slow him down. Joshua cautiously boxed his way to a points win in the rematch and he has looked far from the same fighter who went toe-to-toe with Wladimir Klitschko in 2017. Joshua was also careful as he worked his way to a points win over Franklin, which followed back-to-back points losses to Oleksandr Usyk in world title fights.
But it seems that Joshua rediscovered a bit of the old Anthony Joshua on Saturday night by knocking out Helenius, and will be stronger for it if he’s able to get in the ring with Wilder. — Parkinson