Oscar Valdez enjoys early gamesmanship over world boxing title rival Emanuel Navarratte

PHOENIX — As Emanuel Navarrette and Oscar Valdez faced the media for a press conference Thursday, the champion made a gesture you rarely see.

The reigning WBO junior lightweight world titlist, who puts his belt on the line Saturday to headline a Top Rank show at the Desert Diamond Arena, let Valdez get his hands on it.

Though Navarrette did not let the championship belt out of his grasp, ProBox TV observed Valdez win an unofficial tug-of-war for the title as he held it close to his chest.

“I tried to sneak a touch [on the belt] before [Navarrette handed him the title],” Valdez told us. “It's a superstition.”

The 32-year-old continued: “But, at the end of the day, it’s just going to be me and him inside the ring, and that just shows how much I really want this.

“I want to add a belt [to my career], and I want to take it back home, to my family.”

It was reminiscent — though not exactly the same — of the time Anthony Joshua handed his world heavyweight titles to late replacement opponent Andy Ruiz Jr. prior to their New York City showdown in 2019.

Ruiz held the belts aloft but gave them back to Joshua who walked with them to the ring, before relinquishing them back after a humiliating loss in which he got dropped four times.

It was not long before Ruiz held them aloft for real.

The reason it’s rare to see the reigning champion allow the challenger to get a hand on the world title before the fight is, as Valdez repeated to ProBox TV, “all down to superstition.”

If you do what Joshua did, one may be inadvertently acknowledging the direction in which the world championship will be heading come fight night.

Valdez, though, does not seem superstitious. “I don’t focus on what I can’t control,” he told us.

He finished: “I’m going to enjoy this fight.”

That might be because he’s already got his hands on Navarrette’s title once, and wants to experience it for real this weekend.

Navarrette-Valdez will air on ESPN+.

A 10-round bout between Lindolfo Delgado and Jair Valtierra is the co-feature, after a fight involving Raymond Muratella and Diego Torres was canceled this week when Muratella withdrew citing injury.