Sports

Should Emanuel Navarrete move up in weight? Did Edgar Berlanga benefit from the end of his KO streak?

Emanuel Navarrete’s TKO victory over Christopher Diaz Saturday night in the main event of a Top Rank card at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida, gives him many options at featherweight or junior lightweight. After dominating the junior featherweight division, Navarrete moved to the 126-pound division, won and defended a world title.

On the undercard, Edgar Berlanga failed to extend his first-round KO streak and needed all eight rounds to defeat Demond Nicholson.

“I give myself a ‘C’ tonight,” Berlanga said after the fight. “I wanted the knockout, of course, but I’m happy to have performed in front of my Puerto Rican people, who were cheering me on all night.”

After scoring 16 consecutive KO victories to start his career, all in the first round, Berlanga went the distance and won a unanimous decision with scorecards of 79-68, 79-69 and 79-69.

“It was an awesome experience for me,” Berlanga said. “I caught him with an amazing shot at 10 seconds of the last round. I wanted to get him out. But I didn’t, but I got the experience, especially in front of my Puerto Rican people. It was good.”

Xander Zayas, one of the best young fighter in boxing, scored an impressive first-round TKO over Demarcus Layton. Zayas (8-0, 6 KOs), 18, the youngest fighter signed by Top Rank, has scored KO victories in four of his last five fights.

Is it time for Zayas to take a step up in competition? Did Berlanga get exactly what he needed with the ending of his streak? Will Navarrete stay put or continue to move up? Ben Baby and Cameron Wolfe react to Saturday’s card in Florida.

Should Navarrete move up to 130?

Navarrete’s style is far from what you’d expect from a two-division champion. He can be wild, unpredictable, off-balance and overly aggressive. But Navarrete almost always wins in an action-packed fight that usually ends in a knockout, as it did Saturday night when he finished featherweight contender Diaz.

Navarrete is the most dangerous man in the featherweight division (yes, even more than fellow titleholder Gary Russell Jr.) and it seems clear his power would translate even if he moved up to junior featherweight, a move he’s flirted with recently. So what’s the best career move for Navarrete? Stay at featherweight, where he can continue to defend his crown and call out other champions like Russell and Leo Santa Cruz? Or move up to 130 pounds where Top Rank has a bevy of potential big-name opponents?

The vote here is for Navarrete to move up to 130 pounds and the dream bout is against rising star Shakur Stevenson. It’s a fight that could benefit both fighters. It’d give Navarrete a chance to be a three-division champion as they could fight for the WBO junior lightweight title, assuming Jamel Herring vacates instead of fighting Stevenson. It would give Stevenson a much-desired marquee name on his resume and a chance to pick apart a power puncher who no one has figured out.

Let’s make it happen.

Other potential opponents at 130 include WBC champion Oscar Valdez, Herring and former champion Miguel Berchelt.

The money, fame and legacy is waiting for Navarrette in the junior lightweight division. It’s time for him to use his leaping uppercut to go chase it. — Cameron Wolfe


Learning experience or failure for Berlanga?

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Edgar Berlanga has his first-round knockout streak snapped, but gets a huge knockdown of Demond Nicholson late in the final round to secure the victory.

What happened to Berlanga was the best thing that could have happened to him.

For the first time in 16 pro fights, Berlanga didn’t win via first-round stoppage. In fact, Berlanga had to go the distance in his unanimous decision victory over Nicholson.

The performance, which was still impressive, will give trainer Andre Rozier plenty of teaching tape for the budding 23-year-old prospect. Berlanga’s opponent was finally around long enough for a few of Berlanga’s flaws to manifest themselves in the ring.

Even in an 18-foot ring, Berlanga struggled to cut it off as Nicholson sought refuge in every inch of the canvas. Nicholson also had a surprising amount of success with straight punches through Berlanga’s guard and was even able to win a round in the judges’ scorecards. By the end of the fight, Berlanga appeared to be gassed before he summoned enough power to put Nicholson down one final time.

Berlanga was understandably upset that his big knockout streak ended. However, it served a purpose. The streak gave him buzz and notoriety that should make him marketable for the rest of his pro career. And he no longer has to carry the burden of keeping that streak alive in every fight.

During his run of 16 first-round knockouts in 16 fights, Berlanga felt somewhat like a gimmick. Faced with an actual challenge for once, that perception changed on Saturday. Edgar Berlanga is a prizefighter. — Ben Baby


Is Zayas ready to step up in competition?

From the moment he turned pro, many believed Zayas had the potential to be a special prospect. Zayas shows why each time he steps into the ring. On Saturday night, Zayas overwhelmed Layton to pick up a first-round TKO victory.

It was the type of performance that shows Zayas might be ready for tougher competition. We’re not talking about a former champion or title contender. But even though he’s 18, it’s time for Zayas to face a stiffer challenge in the opposite corner. Zayas has more or less walked through his first eight opponents. Three of his last four fights have ended in a first-round stoppage. Zayas didn’t drop a single point in the lone exception, a February win over James Martin.

Fortunately for Zayas, there are plenty of welterweights that can ease him along in his young career. The division has enough depth where he can find an opponent that can test him while not risking his undefeated record and his future. But at this trajectory, it’s only a matter of time before Zayas proves he’s worthy of facing a big name and potentially a fight deeper on a Top Rank card. — Ben Baby



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