Navarrete: ‘I think Baez is coming with a strong desire to win’

Mexican star Emanuel “Vaquero” Navarrete is ready to defend his WBO featherweight world title against a fellow countryman who is no stranger to toe-to-toe action. Navarrete (35-1, 29 KOs) will take on upset-minded Eduardo Baez (21-2-2, 7 KOs) in the 12-round main event this Saturday evening at Pechanga Arena San Diego.

In the co-feature, San Diego native Giovani “Gallo de Oro” Santillan (29-0, 16 KOs) looks to shine in front of a hometown crown in a 10-round welterweight battle against unbeaten contender Julio Luna (19-0-2, 10 KOs).

Undefeated middleweight prospect Nico Ali Walsh (5-0, 4 KOs), grandson of Muhammad Ali, returns in a four-round rematch versus Reyes Sanchez (7-2, 3 KOs). Ali Walsh is fighting in the same venue where his grandfather got his jaw broken by Ken Norton in a 1973 split decision loss.

Navarrete-Baez, Santillan-Luna and Ali Walsh-Sanchez 2 will be broadcast live on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.

Undercard bouts will stream live and exclusively on ESPN+ (6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m PT) and includes an eight-round junior welterweight showdown between undefeated Mexican prospects Lindolfo Delgado (15-0, 13 KOs) and Omar “Pollo” Aguilar (24-0, 23 KOs).

At Thursday’s press conference, this is what the fighters had to say.

Emanuel Navarrete

(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

“I feel really good. We had a great preparation. We’re going to be making a really good return. It is a bit hard to make the weight because of the time that we were away from the ring. But aside from that, there’s nothing that worries me about being able to make this defense of my championship in excellent fashion.”

“I think Baez is coming with a strong desire to win. He is very well conditioned, and that can make for a great fight. I’ve also prepared very well. We both want this world championship. I have it, but he wants to snatch it away from me. That can make for a great fight from the start. So, I think this fight will lend itself to being a great matchup. We hope that Baez comes out very strong, that we both last the 12 rounds, and that we fight at a very high level.”

“I’m very happy to be returning after the layoff. We hope that my career is going on a good path so that I can keep growing in this new era with Top Rank.”

Eduardo Baez

(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

“I’m very happy because we are fighting for a world title, which is the dream come true for any boxer. We felt really good during our preparation, and we’re coming in great condition. We are very excited to be in this position.”

“It’s an important fight for a world title. We’re coming double prepared. We are so happy to be fighting against a great champion like ‘El Vaquero.’ We thank him for the opportunity. We’ve come very prepared to snatch the title from him. I’ve seen it already. It’s very nice. He better not get careless because I’m going to snatch it away.”

Giovani Santillan

(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

It’s exciting for me to be fighting in San Diego again. It’ll be my second time fighting at Pechanga Arena. It’s really a dream come true. Ever since I was an amateur, I’ve been dreaming about fighting in these big venues. To be on ESPN with Top Rank means everything to me, so I’ve been working hard for this.”

“He’s an undefeated fighter like me. So, when you have something like that, it lights up a fire inside me to train extra hard. So, I’m ready. I’m ready for whatever he brings to the table.”

Julio Luna

(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

This is the opportunity of my career. I come from a family of champions. My sister is a world champion. My objective is to be world champion, and this is the opportunity that will open the path towards that in my career.”

“You will all see the best Julio Luna of my career. This is my opportunity. I plan to leave everything in the ring so I can obtain the victory. I prepared very well. I am ready to win both mentally and physically.”

Nico Ali Walsh

(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

“Honestly, I feel like there’s a lot to prove. That was the start of my career. That was my third fight, and I have been improving beyond what everyone thought I could. It’s exciting that we get to do this, and I think I’ll have a good time. I truly think my last few fights have spoken for themselves, and it shows how hard I’ve been working.”

Reyes Sanchez

(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

“It’s not very often in life that you get a second chance. I’m glad it’s going through. Thank you to everyone who made it happen. I’ve rewatched the fight plenty of times. I think gave him a tougher fight than they were expecting. I expect the same thing Saturday night.”

Lindolfo Delgado

(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

This is a great opportunity here with Top Rank. I’m very happy. It’s going to be a really good fight. I know that a lot of people are looking forward to this fight because of the kind of fighters we are and because of the record that each of us has. I think it’s going to be really good, so don’t miss it. This is an opportunity that we have both been looking for, and it’s the kind of fight we need to move forward in our careers.”

Omar Aguilar

(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

“It’s the right time because we both have good records. This is the moment in which fighters begin to rise in the ranks so that bigger opportunities can come. Like I’ve always said, I always prepare for the rounds I’m scheduled to fight for. I know he is a strong opponent who boxes really well. And if it goes the distance, I’ll be ready.”

Nico Ali Walsh-Reyes Sanchez, Keyshawn Davis-Jose Zaragoza added to Loma-Commey undercard

Keyshawn Davis, the lightweight star who earned a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics, has a golden chance to shine on one of boxing’s biggest platforms. Davis (3-0, 2 KOs), in his first fight since signing a long-term deal with Top Rank, will face Mexican veteran Jose Zaragoza (8-3-1, 2 KOs) in a six-round bout Saturday, Dec. 11 on the undercard of the Vasiliy Lomachenko-Richard Commey lightweight main event.

Middleweight prospect Nico Ali Walsh (2-0, 2 KOs), grandson of “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali, will fight fellow unbeaten Reyes Sanchez (6-0, 2 KOs) in the four-round televised opener.

Lomachenko-Commey, an eight-round heavyweight showdown between Jared Anderson and Oleksandr Teslenko, Davis-Zaragoza and Ali Walsh-Reyes will air live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes (simulcast on ESPN+) at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT following the 2021 Heisman Trophy Ceremony.

Davis, one of boxing’s most sought-after promotional free agents, signed a long-term contract with Top Rank last month. His notoriety soared following the Tokyo Olympics, a run that included a knockout win over France’s Sofiane Oumiha and a close loss to Cuban legend Andy Cruz in the gold medal match. Zaragoza has won three straight fights and has never been knocked out as a pro.

The full undercard will stream live on ESPN+ at 5:30 p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. PT and is scheduled to include the following bouts:

  • Xander Zayas (11-0, 8 KOs), the rising Puerto Rican star and frontrunner for 2021 Prospect of the Year, will fight Italy’s Alessio Mastronunzio (9-1, 3 KOs) in a six-round junior middleweight clash. Zayas is 5-0 with three knockouts in 2021, including a fourth-round drubbing of Dan Karpency in October on the Shakur Stevenson-Jamel Herring undercard. Mastronunzio, who is making his American debut, is 4-0 in 2021.

  • Undefeated welterweight Pablo “Pretty Boy” Valdez (5-0, 4 KOs), the popular New York City ticket-seller from the Lower East Side, is scheduled to fight Julio Cesar Sanchez (11-3, 6 KOs) in a six-rounder. Valdez fought Oct. 30 at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, outlasting Alejandro Martinez in a toe-to-toe crowd-pleaser.

  • Kelvin Davis (2-0, 1 KO), the older brother of Keyshawn Davis, will clash with Bryan Emmanuel Ramirez (1-1-1, 1 KO) in a four-rounder at welterweight. Kelvin Davis also signed with Top Rank last month.

  • In an eight-round battle of unbeaten junior welterweights, John “El Terrible” Bauza (15-0, 6 KOs) will face Michael “Boy Wonder” Williams Jr. (19-0, 12 KOs). Bauza is coming off June’s second-round blitzing of Christon Edwards, while Williams seeks to tally his sixth victory of 2021.

  • Staten Island-born featherweight prospect James “Crunch Time” Wilkins (9-2, 6 KOs) hopes to thrill the home city fans in an eight-rounder against Texas native Juan Tapia (10-3, 3 KOs). Wilkins, who was homeless on the streets of Staten Island early in his pro career, makes his Madison Square Garden debut with hopes of graduating to contender status.

  • Former Irish amateur superstar “Mighty” Joe Ward (5-1, 2 KOs) looks to make it six wins in a row against Britton Norwood (10-3-1, 7 KOs) in a six-round light heavyweight tilt. Ward suffered a freak knee injury in his October 2019 pro debut against Marco Delgado and lost via second-round TKO. He avenged the loss with a one-sided decision over Delgado in March. As an amateur, Ward was a three-time European Championships gold medalist, a three-time World Championships medalist, and a 2016 Olympian.