Mexican whirlwind Emanuel Navarrete scored two early knockdowns and withstood a late rally by skilful Californian Ruben Villa to win the vacant WBO featherweight crown and become a two division champion at the ‘bubble’ in the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, on Friday night.

Scores were 115-111 and 114-112 (twice) with Navarrete’s knockdowns in the first and fourth rounds ultimately proving the difference.

Navarrete is unorthodox but powerful. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Navarrete (33-1, 28 KOs), who made five quick fire defences of his WBO 122lbs title before moving up, afterwards paid tribute to his resourceful opponent.

“I told you guys he is a great boxer,” Navarrete told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna. “And that’s exactly what he did. He used his skills. And once he felt the power, I told you he was gonna start moving even more. And he started to get on his bike, move around the ring.

“I couldn’t get the knockout, but the most important thing is I came away with the victory and I’m now a two-division world champ.”

The Mexican’s two knockdowns sealed victory. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Southpaw Villa (18-1, 5 KOs) didn’t have sufficient pop in his punches to stave off the Mexican’s waves of pressure. But he dragged himself back into the fight in the closing stages with his cultured boxing and made the fight a little too close for comfort on the judges’ cards.

A force at 122lbs, Navarrete is now a factor at featherweight, too.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Navarrete dropped the Californian with a left uppercut in the first and left hook in the fourth as Villa struggled for rhythm and a foothold in the fight. From the eighth, Villa’s movement and smart boxing started to make inroads into what seemed a sizeable points deficit.

Villa’s smooth boxing dragged him back into the fight.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Yet the awkward Mexican kept threshing away at the moving target and seemed a clearer winner than the cards suggested. Yet Villa’s smooth jab and smart boxing ensured he left the ring with his head held high.

Navarrete enjoys his status as a two-weight champion.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

On the undercard, emerging middleweight force Janibek ‘Qazaq Style’ Alimkhanuly scored an eye-catching KO over Gonzalo Coria in the second round. 

Never previously stopped, Coria (16-4, 6 KOs) survived an opening round knockdown, but was almost propelled through the ropes by an overhand left from southpaw Alimkhanuly in the second. No count was required.

“I want to fight a world champion soon, like Demetrius Andrade and Jermall Charlo. Canelo, of course. Top Rank promotes Ryota Murata at 160. I want to fight him as well. Whoever the top guys are 160, I want them next,” said Kazakh Alimkhanuly (9-0, 5 KOs).

Alimkhanuly is the new Kazakh hero at middleweight.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Another hot prospect down at 140lbs, Elvis Rodriguez (10-0-1 10 KOs) KOed the usually durable Cameron Krael (17-17-3, 4 KOs) with a right hook in the third round. Southpaw Rodriguez, trained by Freddie Roach, now has four knockout victories since early July 2, all inside three rounds.

“I feel very happy with this performance. This was my first eight-round fight and things went way better than expected,” said Rodriguez. “I knew that I was facing a tough opponent who had only been stopped once, but I also knew that I had put all the hard work in the gym. My goal is to keep bringing up the flag of the Dominican Republic. That’s what I sacrifice for. I do it for my people. This was a big win, and there will be more to come.” 

Rodriguez’s KO streak continued. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Main image and all photos: Mikey Williams, Top Rank.