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