Espinoza, Navarro square off at Reno Hilton tonight |

Espinoza, Navarro square off at Reno Hilton tonight

Mike Houser

RENO – About the only thing Luisito Espinoza and Carlos Navarro know about each other is that each is standing in the other’s way of breaking into the junior lightweight division’s rankings.

Former WBA bantamweight and WBC featherweight champion Espinoza (47-11, with 26 knockouts) and former amateur star Navarro (26-3-1, 19 knockouts) will meet in tonight’s 10-round main event at the Reno Hilton.

The bout, for the WBC Mundo Hispano title, is one of five on the card, which is promoted by Greg Gulli Productions. Doors open at 6 p.m., with the first bout beginning at 7.

“I’m always prepared,” Espinoza said through his interpreter and wife, Cherie. “It doesn’t matter if my opponent is a southpaw or a righty.”

As it turns out, Navarro is a southpaw, but he said he was unfamiliar with Espinoza.

“To tell the truth, when you get basic about it, I know nothing about the guy,” said Navarro, who is originally from Los Angeles but now trains out of Las Vegas. “I don’t pay attention to that. I’ve heard he has power, doesn’t have power, isn’t fast – I just get in shape. I’m ready.”

If Navarro took a crash course on Espinoza, he’d find out that his opponent turned pro in May 1984, back when Navarro was only 7. He’d learn that Espinoza earned the nickname “Golden Boy” long before Oscar De La Hoya, when the moniker was conferred upon him in the Philippines by former President Ferdinand Marcos when the boxer trained at the Malacanang Palace in Manila.

Espinoza struck gold the first time when he defeated Khaokar Galaxy for the WBA bantamweight title in October 1989 and defended it twice before losing the belt to Israel Contreras two years later.

Espinoza, now 37 and residing in Las Vegas, knocked off Manuel Medina to win the WBC featherweight crown in December of 1995 and went on to defend his title seven times before dropping a 12-round unanimous decision to Cesar Soto in May of 1999.

He subsequently lost a decision to Guty Espadas Jr. 11 months later when he again tried for the WBC belt, which was vacated by Prince Naseem Hamed after he defeated Soto.

The bout with Navarro will be the first in nearly 15 months for Espinoza, who is coming off a one-round blowout of Marco Angel Perez.

“I’m still addicted to boxing,” Espinoza said when asked why he wanted to continue boxing. “Other boxers like George Foreman and Larry Holmes showed that age doesn’t matter. I still have the potential to be world champion. I want to win my third belt.”

The 27-year-old Navarro is no stranger to championships, although all of his titles came during a 158-12 amateur career. Among others amateur titles, Navarro won the 1993 National Golden Gloves at 112 pounds and was a two-time U.S. champion – at 112 pounds in 1994 and 119 pounds in 1995.

Navarro said he beat the likes of Augie “Kid Vegas” Sanchez, Zahir Raheem, Fernando Vargas and Floyd Mayweather Jr. before losing in the 1996 Olympic Box-offs to Mayweather.

Navarro turned pro in 1996 and had a run of successes before being stopped by Lamont Pearson in a June 2001 USBA championship bout. A year later, Navarro was stopped in five rounds by Nate Campbell. In his last bout, Navarro TKO’d Johnny Walker in five on March 26.

“In the beginning (of his pro career) it was going real good,” Navarro said. “Around the middle of my career it all fell apart. The money was coming in and I just lost my head. You name it. (It fell apart) in every way. Now I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’m coming back the smart way.”

If Navarro, who works as an electrician, needs any added motivation, he needs to look no further than his home. He is married and has five children, from 5 years old to a newborn.

“Now, I’m a hard worker,” Navarro said. “I’ve got a family to raise. This is my first interview in two years. Everybody has forgotten about me. I like attention. I like signing autographs.

“I’m going to open a lot of eyes. I’m going to surprise people. I’m not saying I’m going to knock him out, I’m just going to look good. This is where it starts.”

In other action, Ales Perez, 2-0 (1), East El Monte, Calif., will test Carlos Paez, of Lake Los Angeles, Calif., in a four-round light heavyweight bout. Paez will be making his pro debut and is the cousin of former IBF-WBO featherweight champion Jorge Paez.

There are also two four-round junior welterweight bouts scheduled: Ruben Juarez, 1-0 (1), Oxnard, Calif., will face an opponent to be determined and Dominic Chavez, 1-0, Las Vegas, will meet Hilario Lopez, Parma, Idaho. Lopez will also be making his professional debut.

In the evening’s other bout, Shaun Plessis, 6-0 (2), Sparwood, Canada, will face Juan Zuniga, 1-10-1, of Mexico City.

WHAT: Live professional boxing.

WHERE: Reno Hilton.

WHEN: Tonight. Doors open at 6 p.m. First bout at 7.

TICKETS: $50, $25, $15. Available at the Reno Hilton Box Office or by calling (800) 648-5080.