Jaime Munguia Brings the Power in Entertaining Match-up with Liam Smith

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

LAS VEGAS – It remains to be seen how long the Jaime Munguia train will keep going, how far it will go or where it will end up. But it promises to be a fun ride while it lasts.

Two months after annihilating Sadam Ali inside four rounds to annex a junior middleweight title, Munguia outpointed Liverpool’s Liam Smith over 12 gloriously fun, sometimes sloppy, always entertaining, hard-punching rounds. Munguia is just 21 years old, and at times his youth showed. Munguia fights like a happily violent puppy, limbs akimbo, punches flying, enthusiasm palpable, and giving the impression that he might trip over his own feet at any time. And yet, within that bundle of brutalizing exuberance there are moments of veteran brilliance: using an elbow to keep his opponent at just the right distance for his hooks, firing combinations to head and body in beautiful sequence, bouncing on his toes and moving in and out to keep his foe at the perfect distance.

“I’m still a little green,” Munguia (30-0, 25 KOs) confessed afterward. “But this is experience that will help me for my next rival.”

In the early rounds, it was the experience of Smith (26-2-1, 14 KOs) that threatened to be the difference maker. The Englishman maintained his poise, worked behind a tight guard, and used his superior and more restrained footwork to fire counterpunch combinations as Munguia over-committed on his punches or fell off-balance. The problem, though, was immediately apparent: even as Smith landed cleanly with right hands and left hooks, his punches appeared to have little to no effect on Munguia. Munguia’s torqueing blows to body and head, in contrast, landed with thudding authority, enabling the Mexican to work with ever-greater confidence as the contest progressed.

For three rounds, Smith, his comfort displaying itself in his grins, appeared he might be on course for the mild upset, his technical superiority seemingly able to overcome Munguia’s size and strength advantages. But by the fourth, Munguia had begun to settle down, slowing down his offense and making it all the more effective as a consequence. Neither man showed much interest in deploying jabs, both men were content firing left hooks to body and head and tearing right hands over the top. Smith’s punches were shorter and tighter, Munguia’s booming and telegraphed, but even as they landed at the end of a longer arc, Munguia’s were clearly the more effective.

After five rounds, the momentum had swung in Munguia’s favor, and in the sixth he appeared on the verge of scoring the stoppage win. A series of body shots had slowed Smith down, and then an uppercut and left hook sent him staggering backward and onto his haunches and knees for a knockdown. The Englishman, however, refused to lay down, and continued to dig deep and return fire. The ninth round was especially furious, with Smith landing 22 punches out of 73 thrown and Munguia 44 of 104 –and only three jabs landed between them.

Smith continued to land flush whenever Munguia presented him with the opportunity, but without the power to disturb his opponent, he was unable to prevent Munguia from unleashing furious combinations of his own. At the end of 12 rounds, Smith had made a statement by lasting the distance, but Munguia was clearly victorious, the three judges scoring the contest for him by scores of 116-111, 119-110 and 119-108.

“It was a tough fight, but I have a good show to my public,” declared Munguia afterward.

“He’s a good fighter,” said Smith. “He’s probably answered a few questions. He’s young. He’s going to get more exposure. He’s going to get better and better.”

***

When Alberto Machado dropped Rafael Mensah at the end of the opening round of his first super-featherweight title defense, he may well have thought, as did many of those ringside, that he was in for a short evening. It is a credit to the immense fortitude of the previously-undefeated Mensah (not to mention the patience of referee Tony Weeks) that Machado was forced to go twelve rounds for the first time in his career, although the result was never in doubt and the across-the-board scores of 120-107 accurately reflected the Puerto Rican’s dominance. For Machado, it was a title consolidated and a lesson learned; if it was perhaps an opportunity missed in the sense that he was unable to finish his foe, it was at the same time an invaluable experience. At some point, every champion has to demonstrate – to himself as much as to others – that he can go the full distance against an obdurate foe; but if there was a slight tinge of disappointment at the bout’s conclusion, it was that his performance in the second half of the contest was marginally underwhelming, even while dominant, after what had been such an impressive start.

From the opening bell, Machado (20-0, 16 KOs), displayed a confidence and maturity that had been missing in the first few rounds of his previous outing, against Jezreel Corrales. In that fight, he had endured a torrid start from his opponent, including a fourth-round knockdown, before snapping to life and scoring a come-from-behind stoppage win to secure the title he was now defending. This time around, there was no delay to his start, as he pumped out a strong southpaw jab and straight lefts to put the pressure on Mensah immediately, flooring him with a hook that sent the Ghanaian staggering backward and down on the canvas against the ropes. Mensah (31-1, 23 KOs) looked lost, unable to close the distance to score any offense of his own as Machado landed at will with skillful combinations. By the fifth round, the right hand side of Mensah’s face was swelling badly, and a stoppage looked imminent. But after Mensah somehow survived that round and the next, Machado dialed down his offense, choosing to pick his punches and box his way to victory down the stretch, looking for opportunities to open up when they presented themselves but otherwise content to secure the clear decision win.

Watch: Jaime Munguia and Alberto Machado Fighter Minutes

Before their respective matches, watch the two undefeated fighters discuss their preparation and motivations before tonight's fight.

Watch: Munguia vs. Smith Weigh-In

Watch a recap of the Jaime Munguia vs. Liam Smith and Alberto Machado vs. Rafael Mensah weigh-in from Las Vegas. The doubleheader kicks off Saturday, July 21 at 10 PM ET/PT on HBO.

Weigh-In Recap and Slideshow: Flashes in the Pan or Stars in the Making? Munguia and Machado Look to Take the Next Step

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

LAS VEGAS — The last time Alberto Machado entered the ring, it was as an underdog. Five rounds later, that label seemed merited: On an October night at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, New York, Machado was being beaten to every kind of punch by Jezreel Corrales, whose unorthodox, fast-handed style had already dropped the young Puerto Rican to the canvas once. But then, in that fifth round, Machado rallied.

“OK, I think, ‘It’s time to work,’” he said this week of that fifth frame. “In the sixth round, I land a good hook, in the seventh, I sent him to the canvas but the referee doesn’t count it, and in the eighth round, knockout and I become world champion.”

Machado’s come-from-behind stoppage win elevated him into the upper echelon of a super featherweight division with much talent at the top, including the likes of Miguel Berchelt, Mickey Roman and the evergreen Orlando Salido. But since then he has been out of action, resting at home and toiling in Hollywood’s Wild Card Gym under the tutelage of trainer Freddie Roach.

“We had eight weeks in L.A. with Freddie, who is one of the best boxing trainers of all time, and now I am ready to return to Puerto Rico still as world champion,” said Machado, whose quiet, friendly demeanor belies his steel, in much the same way as his countryman, mentor and promoter Miguel Cotto.

But having arrived at the top level, Machado knows he must work to remain there. That work begins on Saturday night at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, when he takes on undefeated Rafael Mensah (HBO, 10 PM ET/PT). Mensah is the nephew of former Ghanaian great Ike Quartey — and his mention of that fact at Thursday’s prefight press conference sent shudders down the spine of event promoter Oscar De La Hoya, who went life-or-death in an epic struggle with Quartey in this town in 1999. “I can still feel his jab,” said the Golden Boy, and it felt as if he wasn’t entirely kidding. The southpaw Mensah is the number one challenger for Machado’s belt, but has never before fought outside his native land; still, if he carries even a smidgen of Quartey’s skill and ferocity in his genes, Machado could be in for a rough night.

“It’s very special,” he said. “It’s my first title defense, and my time for demonstrating why I’m a world champion.”

***

Seven months after Machado scored his upset knockout win, Jaime Munguia made an even more dramatic leap from little-known prospect to budding superstar when, at the same Turning Stone venue, he annihilated Sadam Ali inside four rounds to take a junior middleweight title. Just a few weeks earlier, he had been rejected by the Nevada State Athletic Commission as a possible opponent for Gennady Golovkin, and then had been drafted into fight Ali after the New Yorker’s scheduled opponent, Liam Smith, had been forced to pull out. Four knockdowns and a stoppage win later, Munguia was boxing’s new Bright Shiny Object. But Munguia knows that, like Machado, he has to prove that his win against Ali wasn’t a one-off; in particular, he needs to answer the critics who argued that his devastating victory last May was as much a result of his being much the larger man on fight night.

“Yes, I need to prove that I belong in the 154-pound division,” he acknowledged this week, ahead of a showdown with Smith, now recovered from the skin ailment that ruled him out of the Ali fight. But he smiles that Smith, despite being a naturally larger man than Ali, will still be at a physical disadvantage. “The truth is, I don’t think I’m a natural junior middleweight. I’m a natural 160-pounder; I just drop down to junior middleweight.”

It is a sign of how much Munguia, at just 21 years of age, is working hard to improve and consolidate his standing that Saturday’s bout with Smith will be his fourth fight of this calendar year. Like Machado, he knows that in order to turn one upset win into something more sustained and meangful, he cannot afford to rest on his laurels.

“I hope fans see a better Jaime Munguia [on Saturday],” he said. “I’ve been working on my defense, and I’ve been working on other things, and they can expect a great show. I promise people a great show every time I fight.”

Count Smith among those who see Munguia’s pedigree as untested and unproven.

“He might eventually end up a very, very top fighter,” said the Liverpudlian. “But we don’t know. He looks as if he has all the attributes. But he’s 21 years old, I’m 29 years old. I’ve been in with better fighters than Jaime Munguia. He hasn’t been in with a better fighter than Liam Smith. There are still a lot of questions to be asked about him. But I’ll ask those questions on Saturday.”

If Munguia is able to answer them, and particularly if he answers them decisively, then those doubts that remain may begin to be shed, and a new star may be born.

Weights from Las Vegas

Jaime Munguia: 153.8 pounds

Liam Smith: 153.8 pounds

Alberto Machado: 130 pounds

Raphael Mensah: 130 pounds

 

One-on-One: Alberto Machado

 

HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one-on-one with Alberto Machado ahead of his fight with Rafael Mensah. Machado vs. Mensah happens ahead of Jaime Munguia vs. Liam Smith on Saturday, July 21 at 10 pm ET/PT on HBO.

One-on-One: Liam Smith

HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one-on-one with Liam Smith ahead of his Junior Middleweight title fight against Jaime Munguia. Watch Munguia vs. Smith on Saturday, July 21 at 10 pm ET/PT on HBO.

One-on-One: Jaime Munguia

 

HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one-on-one with Jaime Munguia ahead of his Junior Middleweight title fight against Liam Smith. Munguia vs. Smith fight night kicks off Saturday, July 21 at 10 pm ET/PT on HBO.

CompuBox Preview + Prediction: Munguia vs. Smith

EM1_9673.jpg

Jaime Munguia's rise to world prominence has been dizzying to say the least. In short order, he was a proposed opponent for Gennady Golovkin when the Saul Alvarez match fell through, then, after his candidacy was squashed by the Nevada commission, he was slotted to challenge newly crowned WBO super welterweight titlist Sadam Ali, who dethroned Miguel Cotto in the Puerto Rican's farewell fight.

Now, just 70 days later, he is meeting his mandatory challenger, former WBO titlist Liam Smith, and if Munguia is toppled, his reign will become the shortest 154-pound title reign in history in terms of a champion winning and losing a widely recognized belt inside the ring (he will replace Lupe Aquino's 82-day reign in 1987). But if he beats "Beefy," then Munguia will join WBC super middleweight titlist David Benavidez as a pair of 21-year-old Mexican champions who could achieve stardom. Which path will Munguia take?

A Smaller Benavidez?

Munguia doesn't just look like Benavidez in terms of his body type (lanky and big-boned) but he also resembles him in terms of having heavy hands, throwing them prolifically and hunting down opponents aggressively with precocious combination punching. Benavidez remains boxing's youngest titleholder because Munguia is a little more than two months older, but in his fights against Jose Carlos Paz (KO 2), Paul Valenzuela (KO 2), his two meetings with Jhony Navarrete (W 10, KO 3) and his title-winning destruction of Ali (KO 4), Munguia dished out plenty of punishment and absorbed markedly less in return (62.4 punches per round to his foes' 56, 20.8 to 11.5 total connects per round, 17.6 to 7 landed power shots per round and 33%-21% and 42%-26% percentage spreads in terms of total accuracy and power precision. The jab isn't a big weapon for Munguia (20.2 attempts/3.2 connects per round, 16% accuracy) and while his opponents were slightly more successful (28.7 attempts/4.5 connects per round, 16% accuracy), it didn't make much of a difference.

munguia-vs-smith-stats.jpg

The only time Munguia has been forced to fight beyond six rounds took place in his first fight with Navarrete, but despite the fight going the full 10 rounds, the signs concerning his stamina are encouraging. The proof: In rounds 6-10, Munguia raised his work rate from 66.7 punches per round to 78.2 while Navarrete's eroded from 78.2 to 55.2.

Munguia went on to out-land Navarrete 131-48 overall and 105-25 power in the final five rounds, expanding his final leads to 245-116 overall and 206-60 power (he trailed 56-39 in landed jabs) as well as 36%-17% overall, 18%-145 jabs and 44%-22% power. Munguia's body attack proved key to his wearing-down process as he led 80-19 overall and 74-15 power. Given that Smith has a good body attack as well, this will stand him in good stead.

He didn't need that stamina against Ali because of the massive damage he administered: Two knockdowns in round one, one more in round two and a final one in the fourth. The pace was modest numerically (43.1 per round to Ali's 40.4), but Munguia nearly doubled him in total connects (59-30) and landed more than twice the number of power shots (55-26) while being much more accurate (41%-22% overall, 14%-9% jabs, 47%-30% power). If he can duplicate this performance against Smith, a more durable and experienced performer than Ali, then Munguia will be on his way.

Here's the Beef

Smith, nicknamed "Beefy" for being an overweight child, is a pugnacious body puncher who also wields an excellent jab. In his last six CompuBox-tracked fights against notable opponents, Williams has averaged 55 punches per round to his opponents' 68.8, but inflicted more damage (18.2 to 14.7 total connects per round and 10 to 9.3 landed power shots per round) because he's been more accurate (33%-21% overall, 39%-36% power) and because his jab is exceptional, especially for someone as aggressive as he is (29.4 attempts/8.3 connects per round, 28% accuracy). While 21.2% of Smith's total connects in his last six fights were from body shots, each connect carried notable force.

His only defeat to date was a ninth-round TKO to Saul "Canelo" Alvarez — a more than excusable loss given the Mexican's talent and standing in the sport — but until the KO Smith hung tough after Alvarez's very fast start (74-35 overall in the first three rounds) because in rounds 4-9 Smith trailed just 83-80 in total connects. Still, Alvarez's accuracy was tremendous (37% overall, 22% jabs, 51% power) and his defense limited Smith to 29% overall, 24% jabs and 33% power. These aren't bad numbers, but the final figure — KO by 9 — is.

Smith has fought three times since the Alvarez loss, of which his last two were against domestic rival Liam Williams. The first was a two-way bloodbath that saw the fight stopped after nine rounds due to a severe cut on Williams' eyelid while the rematch was a tamer long-range boxing match that Smith won by a majority decision that should have been unanimous given he led 220-174 overall, 124-80 jabs and 96-94 power as well as 28%-19% overall, 23%-13% jabs and 36.8%-36.3% power. In both fights, Smith came on stronger in the latter stages; in fight one he out-landed Williams 36-19 overall, which allowed him to overtake the more active Williams (77.1 per round to Smith's 52.8) and end the fight ahead 147-141 overall and 71-52 jabs. In fight two, Smith staged two significant surges (70-36 overall and 29-19 power in rounds 6-8; 39-24 overall and 25-15 power in rounds 11 and 12) to cement his victory.

Inside The Numbers

Munguia landed/threw above his wgt class avg. for total punches & power punches, outlanding opponents 17.6-7 in that department. 32.1% of Munguia's landed punches are body shots (CompuBox avg.: 23.3%). Smith (vs. Canelo & Williams I & II) landed 8.1 jabs per round- nearly double the wgt. class avg. RED FLAG: Opponents landed 42.5% of their power punches to 34.9% for Smith.

Prediction

Smith is a hard-nosed Brit who has fought well through cuts and who has a history of getting stronger as the fight goes longer. Munguia is a high-octane power hitter who has stopped his last six opponents, 19 of his last 20, and who has fought past round six just once (the Navarrete rematch). Something has to give, and the guess here is that Smith will be the one who does so. Munguia will come out fast and hard, take advantage of Smith's need to warm up his engine early, and take out Smith before he can find his second gear. Munguia by TKO.