SAN DIEGO, Calif., October 15, 2021 – Bob Arum, welcome back. What took you so long?
After a break of 28 years, Top Rank Boxing returned to San Diego on Friday for its first boxing event since Oscar De La Hoya fought here in his fourth fight in 1993.
Popular Mexican champion Emanuel “Vaquero” Navarrete successfully defended his WBO featherweight title against a determined but ultimately outgunned Joet Gonzalez of Los Angeles. Navarrete won by unanimous decision with scores of 118-110 and 116-114 on the remaining two cards.
Navarrete (35-1. 29 KOs) said he expected a tough fight from southpaw Gonzalez (24-2, 14 KOs). He got a courageous effort from Gonzalez, who never backed down even after suffering significant cuts on his right cheekbone in round three, with a swelling right eye, keeping cutman Mike Bazzel busy between rounds.
Navarrete said Gonzalez exceeded his expectations, calling it a strong and even fight.
“Without a doubt, I hurt him, but every single time he came back, and he also hurt me. A couple shots he landed hurt me during the fight,” said Navarrete. “It has been an exciting ride so far, and from now on, I want the bigger fights.”
It was Navarrete’s second title defense at featherweight and the second title challenge for Gonzalez, who lost to Shakur Stevenson in a lopsided loss.
Gonzalez had something to prove coming off his disappointing loss to Stevenson. He showed no fear of the formidable Navarrete. The challenger stayed busy, working inside to prevent Navarrete from using his reach and shortening his power punches. Navarrete swings wildly at times, and it caused multiple slips through the fight. But when he connects, his punches are punishing, and he could neutralize Gonzalez’s effort. Navarrete credited his conditioning for helping him gain the victory.
Gonzalez felt he would have his hand raised at the end of the fight. “I thought I had it seven rounds to five, eight rounds to four. I was really surprised by that score of 118-110, I believe. I hurt him with the right hand. He did catch me with a punch,” said Gonzalez of the cut and facial damage. “But it is what it is, and I came, and I did my best.” Gonzalez, trained by Manny Robles, said he would go back to the gym and keep working.
It was a thrilling fight to watch, and fans from both sides of the border cheered loudly for the action through every round.
Pechanga Arena’s legacy in boxing isn’t extensive, but it is significant. It’s where former U.S. Marine Ken Norton handed Muhammad Ali only the second loss of his career in an upset victory on March 31, 1973. Witnessed worldwide on ABC, Norton broke Ali’s jaw in the split decision victory. Top Rank founder Bob Arum was Ali’s promoter and is still going strong at age 89 after five decades in business.
Giovani Santillan wins Battle of the Border
The” Battle of the Border” between San Diego’s Giovani Santillan (28-0, 15 KOs) and Tijuana’s Angel Ruiz (17-2, 12 KOs) delivered all the thrills the local fans could have asked for. Santillan delivered the best performance of his career, dominating Ruiz with speed and volume punching to win by a near shutout on the cards, 100-90 X 2 and 99-91.
In his second fight working with trainer Robert Garcia and with his father Memo as second in the corner, Santillan has brought new energy into the ring. Santillan said he benefitted from being put through his paces by the talented sparring partners at Garcia’s gym, including talents like Jose Ramirez, Mikey Garcia, and Vergil Ortiz Jr.
“This is what it’s all about, a great fight in front of my amazing hometown fans. They were cheering for me all night, and it was an honor to perform for my people in San Diego. My father and I always wanted to fight here. It was a dream come true, and credit to Angel Ruiz for going to battle for ten rounds. He’s a true Mexican warrior. I have nothing but respect for him.”
The change was remarkable on Friday. The 29-year-old southpaw came right at Ruiz, found his ideal range early in the fight, and worked nonstop behind uppercut combinations and a left hook that couldn’t miss. Santillan’s timing has made significant improvement under Garcia. Ruiz has power, and he kept Santillan honest, but Santillan never let up and never let Ruiz set himself properly.
Neither man took a round off, getting energy from the local fans who enjoyed seeing local talent putting on a show, albeit a one-sided all-action fight not truly reflected in the scores.
Santillan said his poor performance against Antonio DeMarco in 2020 convinced him it was time for a change. “I learned a lot from that fight. After the fight, I knew I owed it to myself,” said Santillan. “It was a great decision. All the fighters there, it was amazing. They pushed me every day.” Santillan offers intriguing options for the sport’s top welterweights looking for a matchup in 2022.
All A-sides in charge on undercard
Henry Lebron of Puerto Rico (14-0, 9 KOs) manhandled Manuel Rey Rojas of Dallas (21-6, 6 KOs) from start to finish in their eight-round junior lightweight fight. Scores were all 80-72. Lebron’s vocal supporters enjoyed it, and nothing to criticize in his efficient effort. But the bout won’t sear itself into anyone’s memory, and there needed to be a good time to buy a local craft beer at the arena’s vendors.
Being so close to Halloween, Lindolfo Delgado of Linares, Mexico (14-0, 12 KOs) must have thought Juan Garcia Mendez of Mexicali (21-5-2, 13 KOs) was a vampire. Their eight-round junior welterweight bout went the distance, with Delgado scoring a late knockdown and dominating Mendez. But he couldn’t quite put a stake through the local fighter, who didn’t want to disappoint his supporters in the crowd. All three scorecards read 80-71.
Javier Martinez of Milwaukee (5-0 2 KOs) demonstrated why boxing insiders are high on his future as a professional with a patient, power punching performance against Darryl Jones of Sarasota, Florida (4-3-1, 2 KOs). Martinez dominated on all cards 60-53 X 2 and 60-54, but Jones made him work for it. The 2020 Olympic Trials middleweight champion, Martinez turned pro when he only made the team as an alternate, and he’s putting the time to good use. Jones made it entertaining by hanging in tough, but he presented too static a target for Martinez’s body punching.
Floyd “Cashflow” Diaz (3-0) of Las Vegas got the crowd’s attention channeling Michael Myers of “Halloween” fame during his ring walk. He then did his best to frighten Jose Ramirez of Tucson (1-1, 1 KO). The 18-year-old bantamweight scored a knockdown in the first round, and a second knockdown was missed when Ramirez was held up by the ropes. It didn’t see it would go the four-round distance, but Diaz gave a solid, determined effort and ended the fight on his feet. The cards went to Diaz, x 40-35 X 2 and 39-36.
Heavyweight Antonio Mireles of Des Moines, Iowa (1-0, 1 KOs) had a successful professional debut, stopping Demonte Randle of Kansas City in just over two minutes into the first round. Mireles is a 6-foot-9, 24-year-old trained by Robert Garcia, and big things are expected from this next-generation big man.
Big-time prizefights in Las Vegas and New York are the tentpole events of boxing, but in between, there’s a lot to be said for bringing regional fan favorites to their home turf where fans can see fights and fighters close to home. Whether it’s Terence Crawford in Omaha, Jose Ramirez in Fresno, or Giovani Santillan in San Diego, it’s a wise strategy we’d like to see happen more frequently.