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 it all. Mike Coppinger looks back on the memorable moments in Arizona while Nick Parkinson explains why Joshua’s win didn’t send the full message.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — When Emanuel Navarrete and Oscar Valdez first met last year, promises of a slugfest were promised, and when they finally met on Saturday, they more than delivered.
Round after round, the two Mexican sluggers exchanged furious fists in front of a boxing-enthusiastic crowd of more than 10,000, mostly in support of Valdez, who lived in Tucson, Arizona during his childhood.
Valdez kept pushing forward, even if he couldn’t see because of a swollen eye, desperation dropping hooks that he hoped would tip the fight in his favor. But he must have known he was in for a long night when in Round 2 he hit a flush with a left-hand counter, but it just bounced off a grinning Navarrete.
Navarrete unleashed more than 1,000 punches in an exciting manner to defend his WBO junior lightweight main fight title. And there’s little doubt that “Vaquero” is the best 130-pounder in the world.
The non-stop action calls for a rematch, but the lopsided results in Navarrete’s favor do not. Navarrete may be up next, but the junior lightweight division is one of the weakest divisions in boxing, so Top Rank may need to be a little creative.
A natural match is the union with Welshman Joe Cordina, who already had a first class win over Shavkat Rakhimov and a highlight KO from Kenichi Ogawa last year.
Another possibility, although likely further down the line, is a fight against featherweight champion Robeisy Ramirez. And maybe even a fight with lightweight contender William Zepeda, who also hits over 1,000 punches a fight.
Navarrete seems to grow in every new weight class he breaks into, so the word here is that he’ll find success at 135lbs too.
For now, however, Navarrete can look forward to the fruits of his best win to date. The boxing world knew Navarrete was a dependable action fighter, but now that he’s defeated Valdez in convincing fashion, it’s clear he’s more than just a brawler.
Navarrete’s chin seems impressive even in his third weight class, even after being knocked down by tall underdog Liam Wilson in February. Despite its higher weight, its impact performance cannot slow it down either.
Sure, Navarrete isn’t compared to skilled boxers and he could have big problems with them. But against fighters like Valdez who like to change places, Navarrete is just too much. His stardom is growing in a sport where entertainment comes first, while Valdez will likely prove to be a stepping stone as he continues. Valdez showed himself brave and respectful in the defeat and even apologized to his fans, but it’s clear he’s on the way down after another tough battle.
Valdez suffered a broken jaw against Scott Quigg in 2018 and was on the deck many times. He was never counted out, but with his right eye swollen shut and the rest of his face showing the wear and tear of a grueling fight, it’s hard to see where things will go from here – especially when it comes to a title shot.
Time to show us more, Richard Torrez
Olympic silver medalist Richard Torrez Jr. continued his series of explosive knockouts by knocking out journeyman Willie Jake Jr. in the first round. Now it’s time to take Torrez’s competition to the next level as Top Rank continues to develop the heavyweight hopeful.
Torrez is charismatic and loves to brawl, so no doubt Top Rank’s matchmakers will be cautious as they attempt to maintain his unbeaten record and slowly but surely lead him to a heavyweight title shot.
The plan is for Torrez to fight again in 2023 and hopefully that fight will be against an opponent who will force him to show other facets of his game and maybe even face some adversity. Now, Torrez still won’t meet familiar faces in his next bouts – he’s still too raw. It could be a year before he gets to that point, but that’s the main job of the matchmakers at Top Rank, who work tirelessly to find the right path for the Olympian. — Copper
What kind of message did Anthony Joshua send to Deontay Wilder?
LONDON — While Robert Helenius’ finish in the seventh round looked devastating, Joshua was ponderous and cautious for much of Saturday’s fight. Then it was like we went back in time when we gave Joshua a knockout win at the O2 Arena.
A massive right hand ended the non-title heavyweight match in an instant, leaving Helenius sprawled on the canvas. This was the venue where Joshua began his pro career in October 2013 after his gold medal triumph at the 2012 Olympics and where he won his first world heavyweight title fight in April 2019 against Charles Martin.
Against Helenius, Joshua ended up looking more like the destructive fighter he’s been in two reigns as world heavyweight champion (seven total defenses, winning WBA, IBF and WBO belts). But for most of the fight, Joshua was reluctant to do anything more than single punches against an opponent who had never fought for a world title. In rounds three and six, the crowd began to boo with impatience at the lack of action.
“I just followed a game plan, step by step,” Joshua said after the fight. “It’s a grueling job, in the end I made it. I felt better than in April.” [after outpointing Jermaine Franklin]. This is competitive boxing; We try to turn each other off. It’s a game of chess. It’s a sport for thinking men. Why will I trade from round 1? I will smash him.
“Helenius is a very good operator, he gave me some obstacles to overcome. I am happy about the win and it has led me to something spectacular.”
But if Joshua can’t have the confidence to unleash his hands with free combinations against a fighter like Helenius, can we expect the English boxer to take on the most dangerous heavyweight puncher when he’s scheduled to compete? Deontay Wilder in January? Or is the current version of Joshua still capable of beating Wilder’s patient, no-risk approach if a deal goes through that pits the two former world heavyweight champions against each other in Saudi Arabia?
Joshua used to drop his hands in almost every fight, but a surprise loss to Andy Ruiz in 2019 seemed to slow him down. Joshua cautiously fought his way to a points win in the rematch and looked nowhere near the same fighter who faced Wladimir Klitschko in 2017. Joshua was also cautious as he clinched a points win over Franklin. This followed back-to-back point losses to Oleksandr Usyk in world title bouts.
But it seems that Joshua rediscovered a bit of old Anthony Joshua by knocking out Helenius on Saturday night and that he will be stronger if he manages to get in the ring with Wilder. — Parkinson’s