Jaime Munguia Hopes to Prove He Has Staying Power in Bout with Liam Smith

 Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

By Nat Gottlieb

Two months ago, Jaime Munguia was just a whisper on the wind, a talented kid down in Mexico, a good prospect, but not really on anybody’s contender radar.

It took just one fight, a brutal, fourth-round stoppage of former champion Sadam Ali for Munguia to transform that whisper into a shout. There’s a new face joining the middleweight ranks — a potential star with fearsome power.

Having grabbed a junior middleweight title away from Ali in their May bout, Munguia will make his first defense of it against a tough and far more experienced former champion, Liam Smith, at the Hard Rock Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The fight will be broadcast on HBO’s Boxing After Dark this Saturday at 10 PM ET/PT.

In the co-feature, Alberto Machado (19-0, 16 KO’s), a newly-crowned junior lightweight champion from Puerto Rico, will be tested by another unbeaten fighter, Rafael Mensah (31-0, 23 KO’s), who will be fighting outside of Ghana for the first time. Mensah could be another in a long line of African champions from the city of Accra, a hotbed of boxing.

Despite Munguia’s impressive showing against Ali, it’s hard to say just how good the 21-year-old from Tijuana really is. Ali had fought most of his career at welterweight, and while he did beat Miguel Cotto last year at junior middleweight and spoil the Puerto Rican’s retirement party, it’s a stretch to call him a true 154 pounder.

The 6’0 Munguia (29-0, 25 KO’s), on the other hand, is a huge junior middleweight, more of a 160-pounder. While the Mexican did make the 154-pound weight limit for his fight with Ali, by the time he rehydrated, he looked like a light heavyweight. Munguia dwarfed Ali and knocked him down twice in the first round and once in rounds two and four before the fight was mercifully stopped.

Munguia’s beatdown was so bad that promoter Lou DiBella tweeted after the fight: “They did @realworldkidali no favors with this match. Not even a fight. GROSS size mismatch…Just look at the size difference…Dude’s a true middle and real big at 154.”

Unlike Ali, the 29-year-old Smith (26-1-1, 14 KO’s) has fought his entire career at junior middleweight. The Brit has 160 rounds of experience against much better boxers than Munguia (89 rounds) has faced to date, including Saul Alvarez, who needed nine rounds to knock him out.

Although Smith has a distinct edge in experience, he knows he’ll have his hands full with the young Mexican. “Munguia is obviously a dangerous puncher, and I’ll have to be wary of him early on,” Smith says. “But he’s never fought someone as good as me and a fully-fledged 154-pound fighter. I can’t afford to look an inch past Munguia, though.”

And for good reason. Besides Munguia’s power, he had an extensive amateur background and is more of a boxer-puncher than just a banger. Munguia has fast hands, a stiff jab, and sets up his power punches well. He differs from many Mexican fighters in that he isn’t an inside boxer. He prefers to keep the fight at a distance, where he can utilize his long arms to throw bombs.

What makes this matchup so intriguing is that their styles seem tailor made for each other. Munguia likes to stand right in front of his opponent and doesn’t move around the ring much. And unlike when he faced the slick Ali, Munguia won’t have to go look for Smith. The Brit also likes to stand in front of his opponent and moves even less than Munguia. As such, this appears to be a recipe for a fully-engaged, action fight.

The blueprint for a Munguia victory over Smith may have been written by Alvarez. Smith fights out of a high-glove defense with his hands held on the sides of his head. That makes the Brit hard to hit with headshots. But at the same time, that kind of shell defense leaves the lower part of his body exposed. Alvarez’s strategy from the start was clearly to patiently break Smith down with body shots until those hands were lowered. When that happened, Alvarez pounded Smith with hooks and uppercuts until a three-punch combo knocked the Brit out with a liver shot.

Munguia is also an excellent body puncher. The Mexican’s trainer, Robert Alcazar, who worked with Oscar De La Hoya and Jessie Vargas among others, might try to duplicate Alvarez’ fight strategy.

Of course, at this stage of his career, Munguia isn’t remotely as experienced and wily as Canelo. Nor as patent, either. Having knocked out 18 of his last 19 opponents in short order, Munguia got sloppy in the third round against Ali, going for the KO. In doing so, Ali, despite having been knocked down three times in the first two rounds, was able to land several easy shots against Munguia’s lax defense.

The Mexican won’t be able to afford to let his guard down against Smith, who while not exceptionally powerful, is patient and fights in flurries whenever he sees an opening.

“Munguia’s a world champion for a reason and has a high knockout percentage,” Smith says. “I’m going to have to be at my best ever. Unfortunately for Munguia, that’s what I’ll be.”

Like Munguia, the 27-year-old Machado is also a freshly-crowned champion with lots of power, having knocked out 13 of his last 14 opponents. And, also like Munguia, the Puerto Rican is relatively inexperienced. What Machado has going for him, besides blunt power, is he’s a big junior lightweight at 5’10 with a 72-inch reach.

Machado demonstrated he’s a game fighter last October when he got up off the canvas and knocked out then champion Jezreel Corrales in the eighth round. At the time of the knockout, Machado had been outworked by the Corrales and was behind on all three scorecards, 64-68 twice, and 65-67.

It’s hard to say what African challenger Mensah brings to the table. Mensah fought only mediocre competition in Ghana. But boxing history shows that unknown fighters coming out of Accra are more than capable of making a splash in the U.S. The list of future world champions who cut their teeth in that city is impressive, and includes Ike Quartey, Azuma Nelson, David Kotey, Joshua Clottey, and Joseph Agbeko.

Mensah does not lack for confidence in his American debut, either. “I know Machado, and there is no doubt I can beat him,” Mensah says. “When I saw Machado fight, I said, ‘Yes, I can beat you. I will come and may not knock you out, but I will beat you…and teach you a boxing lesson. I fight in front of huge crowds in Accra—it is like the Las Vegas of Africa.”

PODCAST: GOAT Tournament Results and Munguia-Smith Preview (Ep 263)

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview Saturday night's junior middleweight showdown between Jaime Munguia and Liam Smith, plus they reveal the final results on the HBO GOAT fighter tournament.

Hey Harold!: Jaime Munguia vs. Liam Smith

HBO Boxing unofficial scorer Harold Lederman previews Jaime Munguia vs. Liam Smith and Alberto Machado vs. Rafael Mensah. Watch the title fight doubleheader on Saturday, July 21 at 10 PM ET/PT on HBO Boxing After Dark.

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Lookback: Jezreel Corrales vs. Alberto Machado

Before he steps back in to the ring, re-live Alberto Machado's victory over Jezreel Corrales from October 2017. Then catch Machado take on Rafael Mensah ahead of Jaime Munguia vs. Liam Smith on Saturday, July 21 at 10 PM ET/PT on HBO Boxing After Dark.

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HBO Greatest Fighter of All Time Tournament: The Final Round

By Kieran Mulvaney

Inside HBO Boxing is crowning the greatest boxer ever to compete on the network, as determined by you, the fans. Among the countless icons and Hall of Famers who’ve battled on the HBO airwaves, we’ve selected an elite field of 32 fighters for entry in a bracket-style tournament. All matchups are previewed in depth on the HBO Boxing Podcast, and you can vote for the winners on Twitter (@HBOboxing). Who is truly the greatest? That’s for you to decide.

See Round 1: Lampley Region | Merchant Region | Kellerman Region | Lederman Region

See Round 2: Lampley & Merchant Regions | Kellerman & Lederman Regions

See Round 3: Quarter-Finals

See Round 4: Semi-Finals

And then there were two.

After four rounds of voting, and literally tens of thousands of virtual ballots cast online, The Greatest HBO Fighter of All-Time Tournament reaches its conclusion, with the final two competitors. And the matchup is, at the end of the day, probably just as it should be, as The Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali, takes on the ever-sweet Sugar Ray Leonard.

In the semi-finals, Ali overcame Mike Tyson, who had upended Manny Pacquiao, Joe Frazier and Roberto Duran in the voting, to earn his spot in the final. And few could argue that his place is unmerited: after all, how can the conclusion of any Greatest Fighter of All-Time tournament not include the man who styled himself The Greatest long before the rest of the world caught up to him and concluded that he probably had a point? 

Ali’s career defined greatness, in the ring and out of it. In the ring, he fought like no heavyweight before or since – floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee, and winning the heavyweight championship not once, not twice, but three times. Outside of the ring, he captivated and mesmerized; he polarized, too, when he took a stand against the Vietnam War that would see him stripped of his title and his livelihood before he staged his redemptive second and third acts.

Leonard’s career was likewise interrupted, but for personal reasons rather than political ones: after undergoing surgery for a detached retina, he declared he no longer wanted to box and stepped away from the sport at the age of 26, having already secured Olympic gold and world titles in two weight divisions, along the way overcoming fellow future Hall-of-Famers Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns. He would return for an extended final act or three that only enhanced his legacy, a legacy that was reflected in his support during this tournament. He wiped the floor with Shane Mosley and Alexis Arguello, before repeating in fantasy voting what in 1987 he had achieved in the real world: out-pointing Marvin Hagler. In the semi-finals, he overcame the contemporary boxer whose career arguably most closely resembles his own — Floyd Mayweather, Jr. — to set up a final matchup with perhaps the only boxer who could match his achievements, skill, talent and charisma.

So now there are two. But there can be only one. Who is truly the greatest? That’s for you to decide.

(1) Muhammad Ali vs (1) Sugar Ray Leonard

Muhammad Ali
Heavyweight Champion
56-5 (37 KOs)
Years fought: 1960-1981

Best Wins:
KO 6 Sonny Liston, 2-25-1964
KO 8 George Foreman, 10-30-1974
KO 14 Joe Frazier, 10-1-1975

Round 1 Result: Defeated Miguel Cotto, 89%-11%
Round 2 Result: Defeated Lennox Lewis, 78%-22%
Round 3 Result: Defeated Roy Jones Jr., 81%-19%
Round 4 Result: Defeated Mike Tyson, 64%-36%

Sugar Ray Leonard
Welterweight/Junior Middleweight/Middleweight/Super Middleweight/Light Heavyweight Champion
36-3-1 (25 KOs)
Years Fought: 1977-1997

Best Wins:
KO 8 Roberto Duran, 11-25-1980
KO 14 Thomas Hearns, 9-16-1981
W 12 Marvin Hagler, 4-6-1987

Round 1 Result: Defeated Shane Mosley, 93%-7%
Round 2 Result: Defeated Alexis Arguello, 90%-10%
Round 3 Result: Defeated Marvin Hagler, 69%-31%
Round 4 Result: Defeated Floyd Mayweather, Jr., 55%-45%

Preview video: Kovalev-Alvarez and Bivol-Chilemba

HBO World Championship Boxing returns with a light heavyweight matchup between Sergey Kovalev and Eleider Alvarez. Ahead of Kovalev vs. Alvarez, rising star Dmitry Bivol takes on Isaac Chilemba. Catch all the action Saturday, August 4 at 10 PM ET/PT on HBO.

Preview video: Munguia-Smith and Machado-Mensah

Boxing After Dark returns July 21 when Jaime Munguia defends his Junior Middleweight title against Liam Smith. Plus, Featherweights Alberto Machado and Rafael Mensah square off in the co-main event. The action kicks off 7/21 at 10 pm ET/PT on HBO.

The Greatest HBO Fighter of All-Time Tournament: Final Four

By Kieran Mulvaney

Inside HBO Boxing is crowning the greatest boxer ever to compete on the network, as determined by you, the fans. Among the countless icons and Hall of Famers who’ve battled on the HBO airwaves, we’ve selected an elite field of 32 fighters for entry in a bracket-style tournament. All matchups are previewed in depth on the HBO Boxing Podcast, and you can vote for the winners on Twitter (@HBOboxing). Who is truly the greatest? That’s for you to decide.

See Round 1: Lampley Region | Merchant Region | Kellerman Region | Lederman Region

See Round 2: Lampley & Merchant Regions | Kellerman & Lederman Regions

See Round 3: Quarter-Finals

SEMI FINALS

(1) Muhammad Ali vs (7) Mike Tyson

The fantasy heavyweight matchup that has had fans salivating and arguing ever since Iron Mike exploded on the scene in the mid-1980s and threatened to flatten all those who dared stand in his way. Although Tyson’s peak was brief, it was spectacularly dominant, one foe after another swatted aside with almost cartoonish violence. Ali, in contrast, effectively had two peaks: his initial reign from 1964 to 1971, and then from 1971 to 1975 following his return from exile. Both men captivated and transcended fans to become pop-culture icons, and each man stamped his own unique style on the ring. They are undoubtedly the two most famous heavyweights at least since the days of Joe Louis; but which of these legends will wind up on top?

Muhammad Ali
Heavyweight Champion
56-5 (37 KOs)
Years fought: 1960-1981

Best Wins:
KO 6 Sonny Liston, 2-25-1964
KO 8 George Foreman, 10-30-1974
KO 14 Joe Frazier, 10-1-1975

Round 1 Result: Defeated Miguel Cotto, 89%-11%
Round 2 Result: Defeated Lennox Lewis, 78%-22%
Round 3 Result: Defeated Roy Jones Jr., 81%-19%

Mike Tyson
Heavyweight Champion
50-6 (44 KOs)
Years fought: 1985-2005

Best Wins:
KO 2 Trevor Berbick, 11-22-1986
KO 4 Larry Holmes, 1-22-1988
KO 1 Michael Spinks, 6-27-1988

Round 1 Result: Defeated Manny Pacquiao, 66%-34%
Round 2 Result: Defeated Joe Frazier, 79%-21%
Round 3 Result: Defeated Roberto Duran, 56%-44%


(1) Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs (1) Sugar Ray Leonard

Two men who combined top-tier talent with effortless charisma to become the poster boys of their respective pugilistic generations. Leonard, clutching a Gold Medal from the 1976 Olympics, was a star before he turned professional, and he wasted no time establishing himself as a bona-fide superstar, defeating Wilfred Benitez and Thomas Hearns and splitting a pair of contests with Roberto Duran before an enforced early retirement. He returned from that to enjoy a second career, highlighted by a controversial win over Marvin Hagler. Mayweather never lost in 50 professional contests over more than 20 years, but took longer to connect with a broader audience. After spending the first part of his career as an exciting, daring 130-pounder, he ultimately became a defensive specialist at 147 pounds, whose calculated caution inside the ring was belied by his extravagance outside of it. Two men at the top of the tree in their respective eras: who prevails in this fantasy clash across generations?

Floyd Mayweather
Super Featherweight/Lightweight/Super Lightweight/Welterweight/Junior Middleweight Champion
50-0 (27 KOs)
Years Fought: 1996-2017

Best Wins:
KO 10 Diego Corrales, 1-20-2001
W 12 Oscar De La Hoya, 5-5-2007
W 12 Manny Pacquiao, 5-2-2015

Round 1 Result: Defeated Vasyl Lomachenko, 63%-37%
Round 2 Result: Defeated Evander Holyfield, 63%-37%
Round 3 Result: Defeated George Foreman, 64%-36%

Sugar Ray Leonard
Welterweight/Junior Middleweight/Middleweight/Super Middleweight/Light Heavyweight Champion
36-3-1 (25 KOs)
Years Fought: 1977-1997

Best Wins:
KO 8 Roberto Duran, 11-25-1980
KO 14 Thomas Hearns, 9-16-1981
W 12 Marvin Hagler, 4-6-1987

Round 1 Result: Defeated Shane Mosley, 93%-7%
Round 2 Result: Defeated Alexis Arguello, 90%-10%
Round 3 Result: Defeated Marvin Hagler, 69%-31%