UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Just think, if Jose Navarro could just stay away from Japan he might be undefeated today.

In January of 2005 the 24-year-old Los Angeles bantamweight traveled to Tokyo and lost a split decision to Katushige Kawishama in what was by most accounts outright larceny.

Evidently not having learned his lesson, Jose returned to the Land of the Rising Sun this February and lost another close but unanimous decision (this time in Osaka) in another WBC title fight to yet another inscrutable opponent, Masamori Tokuyama.

Although he has come up short in two cracks at the 115-pound title, Navarro remains a force to be reckoned with, and Wednesday night at the Mohegan Sun he carved out in impressive win over Filipino Vernie Torres.

After losing the first round on all three cards, Navarro didn’t lose another in a battle of southpaws waged at a level of skill a cut above the usual ESPN2 Wednesday night fare.

A still-serviceable opponent, Torres fought his early career in his native Philippines before relocating to Pensacola and enlisting as a Roy Jones acolyte back in 1998. Over the intervening eight years he fought on so many RJ undercards that he appeared for a time to be in danger of overtaking Smoke Gainer’s record.

That he was in over his head against the crafty Navarro was evident from the second round on. Perhaps unwisely, Torres fought much of the night with his back to the ropes, and paid a fearful price for it as Navarro punished him repeatedly with hard right hooks to the body.

Navarro wasn’t surprised at Torres’ game plan (“That’s just his style”), but he was surprised that his opponent stood up to the body attack.

“He took a lot of good punches, and I give him a lot of credit for that,” said the winner. “I’m surprised I didn’t stop him with those body shots, but believe me, he’ll feel it tomorrow.”

Torres was penalized a point by referee Dick Flaherty for a punch that came well after the bell had ended the fifth. Then, in the seventh, Navarro was cut above his right eye, and action was halted while Flaherty led him to the corner to have the wound examined by the ringside physician, Dr. Michael Schwartz.

Schwartz allowed the fight to continue, and Navarro breathed a sigh of relief when Flaherty signaled that the injury had been the result of a headbutt (even though, according to Navarro, it wasn’t), meaning that had the bout been stopped over the last three rounds, the issue would have gone to the scorecards, on which Navarro by then enjoyed a comfortable advantage.

“It was a punch,” said Navarro afterward. “I felt it cut when he hit me. Then, a round later, he headbutted me and made it much worse. That might have been what the referee saw.”

The cut was in precisely the same spot as one Navarro suffered in the Tokuyama fight three months earlier, and credit Larry Odono, the cutman in Navarro’s corner, for preventing it from becoming any worse than it was.

Torres (now 27-7) didn’t look so great himself by then, and was bleeding profusely from the nostrils over the last half of the fight.

Navarro (22-2) can be as refreshingly candid after a fight as he is gifted in one. In addition to admitting that the cut had been caused by a punch, he conceded that Torres “dominated me in that first round,” and even owned up to throwing “a couple of low blows – but one of them was unintentional.”

Judge Steve Epstein had Navarro winning 99-89, George Smith scored it 99-90, and Tom Kaczmarek 99-91. The Sweet Science scorecard mirrored Smith’s.

It was a sparkling performance, but having already had two bites at the cherry, Navarro is aware that it may take more than beating Vernie Torres on ESPN to get him another.

“But ever since I was a little kid my goal has been to become a world champion,” he said. “I’d even go back to Japan if I had to.”

Still in his trunks, Navarro was thereupon whisked off to Backus Hospital in nearby Norwich for stitches, pausing just long enough to don a Connecticut Defenders baseball jersey provided by DiBella for the ambulance ride.

Matching as it did a pair of willing action fighters (their lackluster records notwithstanding), the ESPN2 co-feature was bound to be a crowd-pleaser from the moment Emanuel Augustus and Marteze Logan signed the contract.

Game as always, Logan got a nose in front by winning the first two rounds, but then two things happened: With a cut bleeding from high on his forehead, Augustus (a) appeared to fight more earnestly, and (b) began to mock Logan as he weaved about the ring in a goofy pantomime of a drunken boogaloo.

Whether it was Augustus’ stepped-up pace or the knowledge that he couldn’t hope to match his choreography, Logan appeared to fold his tents early, and wound up on the losing end on all three cards, with Kaczmarek and Frank Lombardi scoring it 79-73 and John Makaie 77-26. (The Sweet Science had it 78-74 for the winner.)

There were no knockdowns, but at one point referee Ricky Gonzalez appeared to warn Augustus for bad dancing.

Augustus improved to 31-27-6, while Logan fell to 22-24-2.

DiBella’s junior middleweight Andre Berto, who represented Haiti in the 2002 Olympics after getting himself disqualified in the US Trials, ran his pro mark to 12-0 with a third-round TKO over Mexican journeyman Gerardo Prieto (5-4-1).

Berto, who had already dropped Prieto in the first round and earlier in the third, pulverized him with a right to the head followed by a crushing right to the body. Prieto made it back to his feet after the third knockdown, but was obviously woozy, leading Flaherty to call it at 1:52 of the third.

Calling out Andre Ward, DiBella said Berto would fight the Athens gold medalist “right now.”

(The promoter also described Berto as “the best prospect in the country.” We’re going to give Lou the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant Haiti.)

Although Canadian light-heavyweight Anthony Russell brought a 12-1-1 record into his bout with Brooklynite Jason Quick, his career ledger included one fewer knockout (two) than his 4-2-1 opponent. The fight figured to go the distance, and it did. Russell performed both cleverly and well, fighting out of a modified rope-a-dope that allowed him to pick Quick apart with counterpunches and uppercuts off the ropes.

Then Russell got careless in the last round and got himself dropped by a right hand with six seconds left in the fight. (The Russell corner claimed slip, but he got hit, he went down, and Gonzalez properly ruled it a knockdown.) Since it transformed a stanza Russell all but had in the bank into a two-pound round for Quick, the late knockdown made the judges’ scores (58-55, three times) seem much closer than the bout actually was.

The walkout bout, matching previously unbeaten junior middles, saw Puerto Rican Yukeno Andino (5-0) outpoint Texan Gilberto Guevara (3-1-1) by scores of 40-36 (Don Trella) and 39-37 twice (Smith and Makaie)

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MOHEGAN SUN ARENA
MAY 17, 2006

BANTAMWEIGHTS: Jose Navarro, 116½, Los Angeles dec. Vernie Torres, 116¾, Davao, Philippines (10)

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS: Anthony Russell, 175½, Kitchener, Ontario dec. Jason Quick, 174½, Brooklyn, NY (6)

JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHTS: Andre Berto, 148½, Winter Haven, Fla. TKO’d Gerardo Preito, 149, Mexico City (3)

Yukeno Andino, 152, San Juan, PR dec. Gilbert Guevara, 152, Brownsville, Tex. (4)

JUNIOR WELTERS:  Emanuel Augustus, 140, Brownsville, Tex. dec. Marteze Logan, 140½, Covington, Tenn. (8)