LAS VEGAS -- Emanuel Navarrete had to get off the deck to become a three-division world champion.
Mexico's Navarrete was floored for the first time in his career by Liam Wilson in round four. However, he roared back to stop Wilson in the ninth round of a back-and-forth slugfest on Friday evening at Desert Diamond Arena, to claim the vacant WBO junior lightweight title.
Navarrete dropped Wilson with a looping right hand to set up the finish. With Wilson on unsteady legs and bleeding profusely from his nose, Navarrete (37-1, 31 KOs) unleashed a barrage of punches with his man pinned against the ropes. Referee Chris Flores waved off the ESPN main event at 1:57 of round nine with Wilson standing.
"This was an amazing victory because it tested me," Navarrete said through a translator.. "I needed to know that I was capable of going to the canvas, getting up, and come out with the victory, and now I know."
Navarrete, who has claimed world titles at 122, 126, and now 130-pounds, was ahead on all three scorecards (77-74, 76-75 and 77-74) entering the final round of the bout.
He was originally slated to fight Oscar Valdez, but the latter was sidelined with a rib injury. This was the second time Valdez was forced to pull out of a fight against Navarrete due to injury. According to sources reporting to FightNights.com, Valdez is set to return in May in a tune-up bout before facing Navarrete in the fall.
However, Valdez, a former two-division world champion, entered the ring following Navarrete's win to set the stage for a high-stakes showdown later this year.
Navarrete survived the biggest scare of his career to keep a lucrative date with Valdez intact. Wilson (11-2, 7 KOs), a little-known fighter from Australia, hurt Navarrete with a sharp left hook before a flurry of follow-up shots sent him crashing to the canvas.
In order to buy extra time, Navarrete—in a veteran move—spat out his mouthpiece. As a result, 27 seconds passed between the moment he was knocked down and the resumption of the fight.
Wilson, 26, felt he was done dirty.
"I'm disappointed, but I knocked him down in the fourth round, and I believe the count was a bit longer," said Wilson. "I thought I won the fight in that sense because I think it was about a 20-second count. I'll be back. Make no mistake about it."
Wilson didn't exactly perform well after that point to merit a victory. With Navarrete still on wobbly legs, Wilson failed to take advantage, perhaps because he had punched himself out the previous round. Once Navarrete recovered, he was nailing Wilson from all angles.
Wilson cracked Navarrete with another counter left hook in round six. This time, however, Navarrete took the shot well. And by the end of the seventh, Wilson was visibly hurt and on the verge of collapsing.
Navarrete broke through in the ninth round when a right hand dropped Wilson hard.
Wilson never recovered and Navarrete continued to throw shots until Flores halted the action.
He finally broke through in Round 9 when a right hand dropped Wilson.
Navarrete, who still holds the WBO featherweight title, has yet to decide which division he'll campaign at going forward. The WBO will likely set a deadline for him to make that decision.