It isn’t surprising that Britain took a little while to catch on to Isaac Dogboe. The 24-year-old has lived in London since age 8, but competed internationally for Ghana as an amateur and has fought the majority of his professional fights there, with many of the rest taking place in the United States. He has only fought once in Britain, in his second pro outing; a points win over journeyman Andy Harris in Belfast.
Dogboe remained relatively under the radar until a thumping 11th round knockout win over the undefeated Jessie Magdaleno in Philadelphia last year made him a world champion, and the talk of the town. He was given a hero’s welcome in Ghana, as well as celebrated and extensively interviewed in Britain. A 1st round knockout victory in his first defence against Hidenori Otake secured him a promotional deal with Top Rank, where many people tipped him to become one of Bob Arum’s leading stars in his stable with a bright and lucrative future in front of him.
Then the bubble burst. Emanuel Navarrete wrenched the title from Dogboe in his maiden appearance for Top Rank on the Lomachenko-Pedraza undercard in Madison Square Garden. The Mexican’s noticeable advantages in height and reach made difficult work for the champion, who ended the fight beaten, bruised and with the first defeat of his pro career on his ledger.
The two will meet again this Saturday (May 11th) in a highly anticipated rematch, with the same WBO super-bantamweight title at stake last time out. Navarette, of course, insists the first result was no fluke. “I know he will come at me with his heavy shots but I have prepared well to stop him.” he said at a recent press conference. “I am ready to show the world that our first fight was no accident. I am the better fighter, and I will show that again. [He] has made a big mistake in taking this rematch.”
These comments haven’t sat well with Dogboe: “Navarrete had me in my weaker moments,” claimed the former-champion-turned-challenger. “He [will] not have it the same this time… I have regained my stamina… I am in terrific shape. Isaac Dogboe is here to set the record straight.”
His father and trainer Paul confirmed these sentiments; “We are ready for this big fight. Issac is in a very good mood and can’t wait for the very first bell. Navarrete was right with his prediction; we will be coming at him. We will attack him from the first round… the title belongs to us and we are going all out for it.”
It’s too early in either man’s championship years to tell if any of this means much. Consequently, both make a reasonable claim. Navarrete dismissed some of the concerns surrounding his experience at world level by pulling off the best performance of his career in their first fight, and goes into the rematch as a deserved champion. Still, Dogboe remains the only elite opponent he has ever faced by some margin, and his lack of world-level pedigree still leaves him with some questions to answer.
Was this a one-off, flash-in-the-pan performance of a lifetime? Can he adapt to a game plan that Dogboe has promised to tailor according to what he learned from his only defeat? Dogboe, a former Olympian of the two and with the better names in his win column, will need to rely on a big performance at the weekend. However, he is no stranger to a come back; Jessie Magdaleno floored him in the first round of their title fight. He rose from the canvas to knock the champion down three times before stopping him.
If the first fight had Navarrete as the underdog, this one is a 50-50 affair. Expect a confrontational opening few sessions, but Navarrete may have seen enough of the former champion to know how to beat him. The Mexican, who carries a spiteful punch, has the longest reach of all the top 10 super-bantamweights, and at 5’7 is tall for the division. Dogboe, by contrast, has the shortest reach in the top 10, and at 5’2 is dwarfed by those contenders around him in the rankings. These factors might prove the difference again, as Navarrete spends the second half of an exciting fight sharp-shooting from distance en route to a points win, perhaps this time by a slightly wider margin.