JUST six days after the surprisingly competitive light-heavyweight fight between Artur Beterbiev and underdog Anthony Yarde, tonight (February 3) in Glendale, Arizona boxing fans were treated to yet another example of an overlooked underdog rising to the occasion when Liam Wilson gave Emanuel Navarrete all he could handle for eight rounds of a super-featherweight fight before finally succumbing in the ninth.
It was, much like Beterbiev vs. Yarde, an early contender for 2023’s “Fight of the Year” and featured numerous momentum shifts and periods of peril for both fighters involved. For Wilson, clearly, this was the opportunity for him to prove the doubters wrong and demonstrate, in doing so, his ability to compete at a world-class level, whereas for Navarrete, the former two-weight world champion fighting at super-featherweight for the first time, this was his chance to show his power, such a feature of his aggressive style, had stuck with him up at this new weight class.
In a sense, then, both got what they wanted from the fight in Glendale. Wilson, despite the defeat, came away with his reputation enhanced and will presumably be all the better for the experience of pushing Navarrete close. As for Navarrete, meanwhile, he not only showed he can rally back from adversity, but also, with the help of Wilson, managed to produce the kind of eye-catching spectacle capable of raising his profile and perhaps securing him bigger fights in the future.
In truth, signs of the fight’s potential, if not there on paper, were apparent early on in the fight. In round two, for example, Navarrete, so awkward in his approach, crossed his feet and from a temporary southpaw stance landed a big left hand which seemed to register on the face of Wilson. Not content with that, Navarrete then followed this shot with a further burst, which Wilson did well to extinguish, and appeared, at that early stage, to already be thinking about an early night.
It was then in the fourth round Navarrete would pay for this urgency and this disrespect, with Wilson, by now settled in the contest, landing a well-picked left hook to the body, which he supplemented with an even better left hook to the head just moments later. It was the second shot, the one to the head, that did the damage to Navarrete, causing him to freeze momentarily, and Wilson, sensing this, proceeded to immediately go after his Mexican opponent with more and more punches – left hooks and long rights – until Navarrete, who did well to remain upright for as long as he did, at last collapsed to the canvas.
Having done so, the focus now was on survival for Navarrete and he did all he could to ensure it, too. With his mouthguard spat out, he was given precious time – too much time – by the referee, Chris Flores, and with each passing second Wilson could see his window of opportunity quickly closing on him.
Indeed, by the fifth round, Navarrete, 37-1 (33), had again found his feet and was once more ploughing forward with that ungainly style of his, swinging lefts and rights as though attacking a tree with an axe. There were head shots, shots blocked, and shots missing entirely, yet in the end it was the body shots of Navarrete that appeared to soften up Wilson and break his resolve.
This became clear in the seventh, a round in which Wilson, now bloodied, could be seen bending over to cover up from these shots and then, a little later, finding himself backed up to the ropes and under fire. In those moments one could see him noticeably grimace after a couple of blows landed. In those moments Navarrete could sense the end was not far away.
And yet, the closer Navarrete got to the finish, the wilder he became, which forever left the door open for Wilson to catch him with something unexpected the way he did in the fourth. This unpredictability would ensure the fight remained highly watchable until its conclusion and it also meant Wilson would remain dangerous even if the tide had turned in the favour of the Mexican.
Ultimately, though, the freshness Wilson enjoyed in the first third of the fight had disappeared by the time the final third had come around. By then, such was the ferocity of Navarrete’s attacks and body shots, Wilson’s own movements were slow and his punches were now lazy, each of them lacking the snap of the shots he had earlier used to give Navarrete so many problems.
This rang true never more so than in the ninth round when a ponderous Wilson jab came back to his chest and Navarrete duly delivered a right hand of his own, dropping the game Australian heavily for the first time in the fight. A breakthrough, this right hand of Navarrete’s was proof once and for all that his power had travelled up with him to super-featherweight and it also indicated the fight had all but left the body and mind of Liam Wilson, 11-2 (7). Though brave was he to fight on, as well as cover up on the ropes, there was now an air of inevitability to the referee eventually intervening and separating Navarrete from Wilson, which he did at the 1.57 mark of the ninth round.