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San Diego scorcher: Navarrete defends title, Santillan gets hometown win Friday

Written By | Oct 16, 2021
Navarrete defends

Joet Gonzalez (L) and Emanuel Navarrete (R) exchange punches during their fight for the WBO featherweight championship at Pechanga Arena on October 15, 2021 in San Diego. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

SAN DIEGO, Calif., October 15, 2021 – 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. It was (nearly) worth the wait.

Emanuel “Vaquero” Navarrete successfully defended his WBO featherweight title against Joet Gonzalez of Los Angeles. Navarrete won by unanimous decision with scores of 118-110 and 116-114 on the remaining two cards.

Emanuel Navarrete had too much firepower for Joet Gonzalez. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images Navarrete defends

Emanuel Navarrete had too much firepower for Joet Gonzalez. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

The southpaw Gonzalez (24-2, 14 KOs) gave a courageous effort in the loss, never backing down against the power puncher Navarrete (35-1. 29 KOs), even after suffering significant cuts on his right cheekbone in round three and a swollen right eye. Cutman Mike Bazzel earned every bit of his paycheck keeping Gonzalez in the fight to the bell.

Navarrete said Gonzalez exceeded his expectations. “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 and loss for Gonzalez.

Joet Gonzalez in between rounds during his fight against Emanuel Navarrete. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images Navarrete defends

Joet Gonzalez in between rounds during his fight against Emanuel Navarrete. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Gonzalez came with something to prove. He showed no fear of the formidable Navarrete. He worked inside to prevent Navarrete from using his reach and shortening his power punches. But it meant Gonzalez was constantly in the line of fire. Navarrete tends to be wild in the ring, but when he connects, his punches are punishing. Navarrete credited his conditioning for helping him gain the victory.

Gonzalez wasn’t happy about the scorecards. “I thought I had it seven rounds to five, eight rounds to four. I was really surprised by that score of 118-110. 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 says he will 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

Giovani Santillan drills Angel Ruiz during their fight at Pechanga Arena on October 15, 2021 in San Diego, California. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Giovani Santillan drills Angel Ruiz during their fight at Pechanga Arena on October 15, 2021, in San Diego, California. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

 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 manhandled Manuel Rey Rojas of Dallas. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images Navarrete defends

Henry Lebron of Puerto Rico manhandled Manuel Rey Rojas of Dallas. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

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 break 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.

Boxing insiders like what they see from Javier Martinez (right). Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Boxing insiders like what they see from Javier Martinez (right). Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

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.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities from San Diego, California. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.

Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.

Copyright © 2021 by Falcon Valley Group

Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award-winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.