Jose Navarro grew up in the boxing gyms following his older brothers and father as they made the daily treks to practice.
Even when Navarro was a small fry he showed exceptional ability.
“He was a precocious little guy,” said Bill O’Neil a retired boxing writer who remembers him as a child. “Even at 10 years old he showed a lot of ability.”
Navarro, who is poised to fight Cristian Mijares (33-3-2, 14 KOs) for the WBC junior bantamweight title on Saturday Feb. 15 at the MGM Grand, has been rebuffed three times from capturing a world title.
“I have a lot of respect for Jose Navarro,” said Mijares while at the swanky Beverly Hill Hotel on Monday. “He’s a great boxer.”
Despite a love of the sport and dedication that goes beyond most of his peers, Navarro is like the Chicago Cubs baseball team. He gets close but seems to be cursed.
He has company.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s there was a guy from Pomona named Alberto Davila who showed that same passion and dedication that Navarro now exhibits. He was a perfectionist and a technician. Think of Jerry West shooting the perfect jump shot in basketball and Davila could show you a picture-perfect left hook combination downstairs and upstairs.
Textbook precision was an earmark for Davila, but three times he fought for world titles and three times he lost.
Back in 1978, after winning two elimination bouts, Davila was placed in a world title match against one of the greatest bantamweight sluggers of all time in Carlos Zarate. Only one of 48 opponents had lasted until the final round. That night, though the Pomona fighter did his best, he became knockout victim 48.
Seven months later Davila’s second world title bid number came against Panama’s Jorge Lujan. In this fight a fourth round knockdown by Lujan contributed to Davila losing by unanimous decision.
The third world title bid came against another Mexico City slugger named Lupe Pintor in 1980. Though Davila lacked firepower he felt his technique could help him win a decision, but after 12 rounds, the Pomona fighter lost a narrow majority. People began to say Davila would never win a world title.
Three years later, Davila now 28, was matched against Mexico’s popular and hard-hitting Kiko Bejines at the Olympic Auditorium in 1983. Davila looked pale and puny compared to the muscular bronze-skinned Bejines. But after 11 rounds it was clear that Davila was the stronger fighter though the three judges had Bejines ahead. In the 12th and final round Davila surprisingly knocked out Bejines and finally captured the world title. But even that world title victory came with a tremendous price because Bejines died three days later from injuries suffered in the ring.
Now, Welcome to Navarro’s world.
Like Davila, the former 2000 Olympian Navarro has been seemingly jinxed from winning a world title after three successive tries.
Navarro and his trainer-manager Frank Rivera hope the fourth time is the charm.
“This fight is not difficult,” said the soft-spoken Navarro (26-3, 12 KOs). “I’m hoping to steal the show.”
Because of the confidence in his ability Navarro and his manager feel he can beat anyone. That’s why those took the fights overseas in Japan and Russia where usually close decisions go to the native fighter.
Perhaps fighting in Las Vegas will be the good look charm he needs?
“Jose has learned how to run on ice,” said Frank Rivera, his trainer and manager. “Fighting in Russia was cold and tough.”
Aside from filling the pages in his passport, Navarro has experienced hometown favoritism for opponents and the difficulties of preparing in hostile territory with possible saboteurs at each juncture.
“I do all the cooking,” said Rivera who treated each foreign venture with the wariness of a C.I.A agent. “It was scary in Russia, I’m telling you the truth.”
Navarro just shrugs his shoulders at the obstacles of fighting on foreign turf.
“I’m used to it. As an amateur I traveled all over the world,” said Navarro, 26, whose brother Carlos Navarro was also an amateur boxing star. “I don’t worry about nothing when I’m fighting.”
But Navarro’s manager worries and points to the losses overseas as proof.
“Jose definitely won his first fight against Katsushige Kawashima,” Rivera says of the encounter that took place at Tokyo in Jan. 3, 2005 and resulted in a split decision loss. “Everybody knows he won that fight.”
The rematch never took place because Kawashima was beaten by fellow Japanese Masamori Tokuyama. That didn’t stop Navarro, he packed up his bags and headed to Osaka, Japan to fight the new champion. He was beaten soundly in 2006.
“After losing the first fight because of a bad decision, I just went there with a negative attitude,” Navarro confesses. “I felt I couldn’t win because of the judging.”
The next overseas adventure was Russia. It was felt that perhaps due to Glasnost the climate was ripe for an American like Navarro to walk into frigid Moscow and grab the IBF title.
For the third time Navarro was spurned in a close decision loss to Dimitri Kirilov.
“I’d love to fight him again,” Navarro says.
Things just don’t always go his way.
“I still remember watching Jose mimic his older brothers in the ring when he was only 10 years old,” said O’Neil who now lives in Riverside. “He never was a big banger but more a technician.”
If technicians can win a world title like Davila, then there’s hope for Navarro too.
“Fighting in Las Vegas could be the difference between winning and losing,” said Navarro.
I guess it’s time to roll the dice.
WBO junior bantamweight title
Mexico City’s Martin Castillo, who trains in Southern California, attempts to win another world title when he battles Fernando Montiel of Los Mochis, Mexico on Saturday Feb. 16 at the MGM Grand.
“Montiel says I run a lot and that he’ll have to chase me,” said Castillo while training in El Monte. “I hope I don’t have to chase him.”
Castillo formerly held the WBA junior featherweight title and lost to Japan’s Nobuo Nashiro after suffering a bad cut over his eye and the fight was stopped. This is first world title opportunity since losing the WBA title in 2006.
“After it ends I will be the champion,” Montiel predicts. “Whatever style of fight he wants I’ll win.”
Three PR welterweight champions
Carlos Quintana became the third Puerto Rican to currently hold a version of the welterweight world title following his unanimous decision victory over Paul Williams last week. Miguel Cotto has the WBA title and Kermit Cintron has the IBF title. Only the WBC has a non-Puerto Rican welterweight titleholder in Floyd Mayweather.
Fights on television
Fri. ESPN2, 6 p.m., Delvin Rodriguez (21-2-1) vs. Troy Browning (20-0-1).
Fri. Telefutura, 8 p.m., Mike Alvarado (19-0) vs. Jesus Rodriguez (17-2).
Sat. HBO pay-per-view, 6 p.m., Kelly Pavlik (32-0) vs. Jermain Taylor (27-1-1);
Cristian Mijares (33-3-2) vs. Jose Navarro (26-3); Fernando Montiel (35-2-1) vs. Martin Castillo (37-2).