EMANUEL NAVARRETE became a two-division titlist when he won the vacant WBO featherweight belt with a unanimous 12-round victory over Ruben Villa in Las Vegas on Friday (October 9) .

On the surface, it opens the door to some tasty fights against other belt-holders Josh Warrington, Leo Santa Cruz and Gary Russell.

Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s clear the 25-year-old Mexican could be heading into trouble. He does everything wrong and his footwork is at times woeful, but his power has usually been enough to see him through. Villa, from Salinas in California, was a big outsider in the betting but he fought back magnificently to claw back the points from the two knockdowns (rounds one and four) and only poor tactics in the last round cost him an unlikely victory.

The southpaw jab of Villa opened proceedings as Navarette pushed out punches with his languid style. The underdog was busier and quicker and looked confident until a casual but well-hidden left hook from Navarrete came up inside Villa’s right and toppled him onto his backside. Villa was up at four and when the action resumed had no trouble evading the crude efforts of Navarrete to land another punch.

Navarrete changed to southpaw in the second and connected with a long left. Villa was boxing carefully, not committing himself. Navarrete switched back to orthodox and was connecting with long rights. Villa was confident enough by the end of round to launch some attacks of his own but Navarrete was dangerous with big swinging punches.

Villa boxed cleverly in the third. He was circling Navarrete, stabbing him with right jabs and occasionally stepping into connect with a left, exposing the Mexican at times.

But Navarrete stepped up his pace in the fourth trying to cut off the ring. Villa made the mistake of standing and trading punches and as he threw, a left a solid left hook from Navarrete arrived first which saw Villa go down on one knee. He was up immediately but appeared more shaken than by the first knockdown.

The Mexican continued to play the role of the aggressor in rounds five and six, his heavier hands trumping the quick feet of his opponent. But Villa found his form from the seventh.

The 23-year-old was threading jabs though Navarrete’s suspect defence. They would provoke retaliation but Villa was cleverly countering the wild approach.

The eighth was a classy round from Villa; plenty of movement, constantly changing direction, leaving Navarrete swishing air then darting in with two or three quick punches and out. The frustration in the favourite was obvious.

Navarrete tried to up his pace in the ninth but just could not pin down the speedy Villa who was continually finding his way past the guard and evading punches.

Villa’s confidence was soaring in rounds 10 and 11. He was flitting around Navarrete and then choosing his moment to stand and punch. On occasion, he was willing on occasion to take the fight to Navarrete. The Mexican was sent to the ropes at the end of the session by a left hand.

Into the last and Villa’s inexperience told for the first time. He fought to survive as if that was all he needed to do to secure the upset. But the fight as hanging in the balance.

Navarrete hunted him down for the full three minutes, connecting with hooks from both hands as Villa scampered around the ring. It was clearly Navarrete’s round and in turn the fight.

Navarrete may not have been convincing but we couldn’t argue with him being declared the winner of this Russell Mora-officiated contest. Boxing News scored the bout 114-112 for Navarrete, the same as judges Tim Cheatham and Max DeLuca. Patricia Morse Jarman was more generous, tabling 115-111 in Navarrete’s favour.

The Verdict Navarrete wins but none of his major rivals at featherweight will be too concerned on this evidence.