BoxingFight Previews

Salinas’ Ruben Villa Fights For World Title, Friday, on ESPN

Ruben Villa hasn’t lost as a professional fight, and rarely lost in the amateurs, but is the underdog to an emerging star of the lower weights, Emanuel “Vaquero” Navarrete of Mexico, as the two will do battle for the vacant WBO featherweight title, which became vacant once Shakur Stevenson decided to move up to junior lightweight and set his sights on Jamel Herring’s WBO world title.

The bout which will occur at 7 PM PST, Friday night on ESPN, is one that has all of Northern California is talking about as Villa is one of the proud amateur fighters from our region, who is looking to repeat his success in the amateurs in the pros, and those who know him are looking for his talent to be seen on a national level.

Villa, who has spent most of his career split between Thompson Boxing cards and Banner Boxing shows on the east coast, as both promoters, promoter him, has taken a rather old-school approach to main eventing a world title fight as he fought through the smaller circuit shows, accumulated wins on ShoBox multiple times against credible opponents such as Luis Alberto Lopez Vargas, Jose Enrique Durantes Vivas and Ruben Cervera, whom after Villa beat him went to train with his camp in Salinas, Ca, with the Garcia family. Villa might be the only California fighter to fight twice on televised cards from Shreveport, Louisiana, for example, as Villa climbed his way up to the position he is in.

“My last couple of fights, they’ve been aggressive guys who come to beat me and think they’re going to get me off my game plan. But I adapted well. We always had good game plans and stuck to game plans, and now we’re here fighting for a world title. I feel like I’m ready. I feel like he’s beatable, and my style is the one to do it.” said Villa, at today’s virtual press conference on ESPN+.

It is hard to not be biased since so many people say so many things, and most of them look so novice, when looking at Villa’s complete career. I will say this first and foremost, a fight is a fight, and anything can happen. Navarette is a monster, and fearsome fighter, and one who is not to be doubted, but the sheer disrespect and utter lack of acknowledgment to Villa is troubling as, Villa is a distinguished fighter, having faced tough opposition in the pros and amateur ranks. The only difference is Villa’s fights have been on Facebook Watch, USA Boxing streams, and ShoBox cards on Friday night’s that a lot of people just flat-out miss.

The fighters Villa beat are not sexy names, but simply hard fights, so if you want to poke holes at his resume, it is possibly, just not justified.

Another trope, I see floating around is “good amateurs, often don’t make good pros,” or a glee when a top amateur fails as though the professional game is that much different. Villa is a workhorse in the gym, a conditioning freak, and despite a lack of knockouts on his record, fighters are not eager to walk into Villa’s punches if you watch his fights. The keyword is, if, since most, it appears don’t.

The common opinion being thrown out is Navarette is too strong, and his power will be too much for Villa, who will be in over his head. Sure, if Villa sits still in this bout he is cooked, but if he moves, only two fighters resemble Lomachenko that are southpaws currently, and they’re named Ruben Villa and Vic Pasillas, and the guy ain’t that easy to hit.

That being said Navarrete (32-1, 28 KOs) reigned as WBO junior featherweight world champion made five world title defenses at 122 lbs in nine months including a stoppage win over Isaac Dogboe and beating undefeated Francisco De Vaca. Now just as people look down at Villa’s record and scoff, do we really know how good Navarrete is beyond the eye test as Dogboe has never been back to the world level since and De Vaca hasn’t fought since the loss. The answer is unknown, Navarrete is either extremely good or a tad dominant over the perfect type of opponents.

Villa (18-0, 5 KOs), from Salinas, Calif, earned this title shot with wins over the likes of Alexei Collado and Jose Enrique Vivas, but Navarrete will take Villa back to his days of the amateurs in which he holds wins over Shakur Stevenson and Devin Haney. Villa who trained during massive firestorms that tore apart all of Northern California with devastation and smoke-filled days including unhealthy air and odd-looking skies is now looking to be the first world champion to ever come out of Salinas, California.

“There have been a couple of restrictions and stuff due to COVID, but I’ve been in the gym, I’ve been active. It hasn’t gotten in the way of my training and my team’s training. Yeah, we trained hard, another hard camp, and we’re ready for Friday night.” said Villa. “Running with the mask on, seeing the field workers working during the pandemic and fires, it’s just another motivation for me to win this fight and bring Salinas its first world title. I just can’t wait to show you guys what I got.” 

Yet despite how all of us in Northern California are looking for Villa to be dominate, whom most who have known him since the amateurs call him “Drac”, short for Dracula, coined by his amateur coach, Rudy Puga, Sr, who no longer trains Villa, based around Villa’s pointy teeth, the fact is any world title fight, is a fight, and that means both men have a chance to win. Navarette is no small feat. Navarette throws 100 punches around, gives up his defense for offense, and has a six-inch reach advantage. To win the world title on Friday night, Villa will have to earn it.

“I want to see the best Ruben Villa. I haven’t even seen him yet. I feel like Navarrete will bring it out of me. I’m just excited to perform and, like I said, show you guys what I got. I feel like I’ve been slept on. Maybe a lot of people think I don’t belong here, but I’m going to show everyone I’m an elite 126 fighter. Yeah, I’m coming to win and coming to fight.”

As Villa, who has trained with Max Garcia, and his son, Sam, the goal is simple, bring a world title back to Salinas, Ca. While Villa’s biggest supporters, his mom, and dad, have cheered for him since day one.

Villa is a fighter who’s story is as emotional and heartwarming as someone like Bernard Hopkins, and if you can’t relate to doing something much bigger than yourself, do you really have a heart? Villa is from a small farm town and made it to the national stage simply through hard work that lead to the talent he now demonstrates.

Villa, who sparred emerging super featherweight contender Manny Jaimes of Toscano Boxing Promotions, Javier Padilla, Top Rank’s Andy Vences, and Mayweather Promotions’ Xavier Martinez, got all the hard work he could handle, and now hours before making weight the fight finally seems real for all of us who have watched Villa sine the amateurs.

Villa faces Navarrete on Friday, October 9th, on ESPN, at 7 PM PST, as Villa fights for his first world title.

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Lukie Ketelle

Lukie Ketelle