If there is anything more difficult in boxing than accepting your first loss, it’s learning how to cope with it in the months leading up to your first fight back. Such has been the case for 2000 U.S. Olympian Jose Navarro, who returns to the ring on May 26 for the first time since his heartbreaking loss to WBC super flyweight titlist Katsushige Kawashima in early January.

The New Year was supposed to start off with a bang for Navarro. Traveling outside of the United States for the first time since turning pro four years ago, Jose believed that he could head to Kawashima’s home land of Japan, and become the second member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team to win a world title, three months following Jeff Lacy’s title win in Las Vegas.

Twelve rounds later, Navarro instead became the first of the team to be fed a heaping serving of boxing politics.

“No doubt, the year certainly started off on a bad note,” admits Jose, who prepares to fight May 26 in a fight that has changed dates and opponents three times in the past month. “Not just for me, but for boxing in general. What’s odd about it all is that I had a bad feeling once I left training camp that something bad was going to happen. Once I heard their scores, I was reminded of that pre-fight feeling.”

That the judges disagreed on eight of the twelve rounds fought is all you need to know about the horrendous nature of the decision. To be honest, all three judges were off that night in Tokyo. Judge William Boodhoo somehow saw Navarro win or draw in all twelve rounds, while judges Gelasio Perez and Noppharat Sricharoen favored Kawashima’s “harder” punches to Navarro’s overall output and ring generalship. Most who watched the fight with a shred of objectivity saw the fight somewhere in the middle of the official scorecards.

Navarro has attempted to accept the moral victory and stateside support as a consolation prize. But with four months to think about, he instead accepts reality: a loss is a loss, and his fighting style doesn’t serve as cause for support when questioning poor scoring.

“The sad part of all this is that a week after it happened, nobody seemed to care,” suggests Navarro. “It was mentioned in the states partly because it was the first major fight of the year, and also because nothing else was really scheduled anywhere else over here until about the middle of January. But once there was anything else to talk about, this decision just seemed to get swept under the rug. And there’s good reason for that – nobody knows who I am. I now realize why, and will do all I can to change that.”

Aside from the fact that he fights at junior bantamweight, a division not heavily embraced by the American media, Navarro believes that tweaking his style should help garner additional attention.

“I watched the Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo fight a couple of times, and I kept saying to myself, ‘Man, these two just don’t give up.’ That’s where I need to go with my career. I’ve always taken whatever fights the fans wanted me in, and I need to fight to please the fans. My counter punching ways led to twenty-one wins. But honestly, that’s probably the number of fans I have outside of my hometown. I need to become a fighter, and stop being a pretty boxer.”

He will undoubtedly get his chance at the end of May, though who against remains to be seen. Jose was originally slated to fight in San Antonio on Cinco de Mayo, but the bout got pushed back. The date and opponent has since changed twice, though the location stays the same.

The most recent listings have Navarro fighting on May 26 in San Antonio. Depending on whom you believe, he is either facing 22-9-3 Ruben Poma or 8-4-3 Arteaga Garcia. At the moment, Jose is not sure what to believe.

“They keep telling me I have a fight, but it seems like it gets pushed back every day,” says Jose, who as of Saturday had no clue who his opponent would be – or if he’s even still fighting on May 26. “It’s to the point where I’m waiting for them to tell me that the fight is off altogether. It’s hard enough to cope with the fact that I should have a belt around my waist instead of a loss on my record. All I ask for now is a chance to get a ‘W’ back on my record.”

Once Jose gets his next fight settled and eventually out of the way, he will be keeping a watchful eye on title fight action in Japan this summer. Kawashima is slated to fight another rematch – actually a rubber match against former champ Masamori Tokuyama in July. Kawashima dropped a close decision to Tokuyama in June 2003 before knocking him out in a round one year later to win the WBC super flyweight crown.

How a third fight with Tokuyama takes precedence over a mandated rematch is unknown to Jose. All he knows is that he is guaranteed to face the winner later this year. His preference would be a rematch against Kawashima, but a second crack at a belt he believes belongs to him is first and foremost in his future plans.

Regardless of what goes down in July, Navarro insists that Kawashima will remain on his hit list.

“The WBC belt is what I want,” insists Navarro. “If Tokuyama should win it, that’s fine. As long as he gives me my shot in October, I’ll take it. After I beat him, perhaps I can give Kawashima a rematch for my first title defense. As far as I’m concerned, there is a lot of unfinished business. I need to get that belt, and an official win over Kawashima before moving on with my career. This time, I will show them a new Jose Navarro, one that dominates fights, one that puts butts in the seats and opponents on the deck.”

Such a version of Navarro would be a drastic change from the present-day version. Navarro currently stands at 21-1 with only 9 KOs. The modest knockout-to-win ratio can easily be attributed to Jose’s counterpunching style, but the fact is the kid is a master boxer. Those who saw the fight with Kawashima complained far more about the atrocious scoring than they do the lack of entertainment value. In fact, the fight easily ranks as one of the better fights of 2005 thus far.

Still, Navarro has enough confidence in his game to where he believes he can make adjustments without sacrificing skill level. The boxer will always remain; he just wants to offer a version that will better impress the fans – and the judges.

“I have no regrets with the way I fought against Kawashima. I fought a smart fight, and to this day, I still know deep down that I easily won that fight. But I do need to be more aggressive. I need a spark in order to become more effective, and make more fans want to care about me. Had I been more aggressive that night, I believe I would have stopped him.

“But I have to put that past me, and focus on the future. I need to get on TV more, get my name out there. Making such adjustments in my style will help. Those changes will help me bring home the WBC title. Then I can get in on the action that’s developing here.”

The action here would be a surge in potential blockbuster fights at flyweight and junior bantamweight. Martin Castillo (WBA 115), Fernando Montiel (WBO 115) and Luis Perez (IBF 115) have all been campaigning in the states, and have all made for exciting fights in the past. Longtime WBC flyweight kingpin Pongseklak Wongjongkam will be facing red-hot Mexican icon Jorge Arce in the summer.

Navarro doesn’t ask for much. All he wants is an invitation to the growing block party.

“The worst thing about not having that title is that I feel like my career is on hold and I’m missing out on big fights right over here. Jorge Arce and Hussein Hussein had one of the best fights of the year a couple of months ago, and (Martin) Castillo got a lot of ink this way after beating up Eric Morel. I see these fights, and wonder where I’d fit in had I come home with the WBC belt instead of my first loss.”

With revenge on his mind, and plans to eventually square off with the other champs, Navarro has plenty to look forward to, once he’s able to return to the ring.

“The loss was tough to deal with at first, but now it serves as motivation to get back into the ring. I learned a lot, both that night and about the sport itself. The record now reads 21-1, but for me, the biggest loss is not having that belt. I know in my heart that it belongs to me, but now I have to convince the people that I deserve the title of uncrowned champion. I have to do that by showing them that I’m over it. I’m just anxious to show that I’m a better fighter as a result.”

Spoken like a true champion, uncrowned or otherwise.