HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney break down Jaime Munguia's stunning four-round destruction of Sadam Ali and Rey Vargas' hard-fought decision win over Azat Hovhannisyan. (Spoiler alert: Raskin and Mulvaney actually have a strong disagreement about something!)
Two-time light heavyweight world champion Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) puts his WBO Light Heavyweight World Title on the line against Eleider “Storm” Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs) at the Etess Arena in the brand new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City on Saturday, August 4, 2018. The event, promoted by Main Events and Krusher Promotions in association with Groupe Yvon Michel, will be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing beginning at 10 PM. ET/PT. This will mark Kovalev’s 14th appearance on HBO®with Alvarez making his network debut.
Kovalev vs. Alvarez will be the first professional boxing event to take place at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, which opens on June 28. Kovalev, 35, of Chelyabinsk, Russia, will be fighting for the fourth time in Atlantic City, including his 2014 victory over future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins, which unified three of the four light heavyweight world titles. The only light heavyweight world title Kovalev has not had the chance to win belongs to WBC Light Heavyweight Champion Adonis “Superman” Stevenson.
Undefeated Eleider Alvarez has yet to fight Stevenson as well. Alvarez defeated Isaac Chilemba in 2015 to secure the WBC mandatory position and the opportunity to face Adonis for his piece of the light heavyweight crown. Since then, Alvarez is 4-0 with notable wins over former world champions Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute. After more than two years since becoming the mandatory contender and almost one year since his last fight, Stevenson has not agreed to fight Alvarez, so Eleider jumped at the opportunity to face Kovalev for the WBO World Title when the offer arrived.
Kovalev explained, “Alvarez has earned his title shot but Chickenson dodged him; just like he dodged me. I want to fight the best in my division. Alvarez took the fight with me without hesitation. I respect that and I am excited to face him in my return to Atlantic City.”
Egis Klimas, Sergey’s manager, added, “Eleider Alvarez is a great competitor. That is probably why Stevenson refused to fight him. Sergey will face anyone, any time, any place. If Adonis is too scared to take the fight, Sergey is happy to step up and fight Alvarez. He earned this opportunity.”
Main Events’ CEO and Kovalev’s promoter, Kathy Duva, said, “Entering our 40th year in this business, we are so excited to return to Atlantic City and honored to be the first fight in this beautiful new venue. Atlantic City, and the Etess Arena in particular, were home to so many amazing fights with Evander Holyfield, Michael Moorer, and the late, great Arturo Gatti, just to name a few. The Atlantic City fans have always come out to support Sergey and, fortuitously, this event will take place during the French-Canadian Construction Holiday when the Jersey Shore fills up with vacationers from Quebec. We’re going to have a great crowd on August 4th!”
According to Alvarez, “I am extremely happy. I said yes as soon as I had the offer! I waited for a long time to get a shot at a world title. I don’t want to hear about Adonis Stevenson anymore: I am focused on Sergey Kovalev! I am really motivated, it is a huge fight against a really high-class opponent. Kovalev is right now the best fighter of the division. I wanted to fight in a world championship bout to show my talent and now I finally have the opportunity. I know it is a really hard fight, but I will work hard to become world champion. This is my dream. I am a boxer who loves challenge and who performs at my best when I am challenged. I now have what I want. Kovalev is an all-around solid fighter, with a good jab, good technique and a hard puncher, but my trainer knows him well! I have no doubt, I will be the next WBO champion.”
Alvarez’s promoter, Yvon Michel, added, “The experience that Eleider Alvarez has now makes gives him solid chances to win that important clash! He is fighting with passion and adrenaline. He deserves his world title fight in front of his crowd. I am convinced that Eleider Alvarez has what it takes to beat Sergey Kovalev and to bring a third light heavyweight title back in Quebec!”
Eleider is managed by Stéphane Lépine, who explained, “The offer from Kathy Duva arrived and we were really happy. Fighting against Sergey Kovalev, an established and recognized name of the boxing world, on HBO, we couldn’t ask for any better opportunity! For me, it was a no brainer; we had to accept that amazing offer. We were also too tired to wait for Adonis Stevenson.”
Marc Ramsay, Eleider’s trainer, has faced Kovalev before as the trainer for Jean Pascal. He said, “‘Eleider is an experienced fighter, he has fought in other opponent’s backyard, he also fought in front of huge home crowd. We were waiting for a title shot for so long, he is now very ready to perform. The objective for him when we started together in the pro ranks was to become world championship fight. That is a promise I made him when he arrived in Montreal from Colombia. I am really confident that Eleider have what it takes to become world champion.”
“Sergey Kovalev will face his toughest opponent in over a year in undefeated Eleider Alvarez when World Championship Boxing returns to Atlantic City,” said Peter Nelson, Executive Vice President, HBO Sports. “The boardwalk has been the site of many memorable moments throughout the years and we look forward to this light heavyweight title showdown on August 4.”
Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
VERONA, N.Y. -- Five months ago, Sadam Ali was on top of the world, scoring the biggest victory of his career when he ruined future Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cotto’s retirement party with a decision win. On Saturday night, he was a beaten man, bludgeoned to the canvas four times and stopped by a younger, stronger and much, much bigger Jaime Munguia, who made the most of an unexpected opportunity to announce his arrival in devastating fashion on his HBO debut.
Ali (26-2, 14 KOs) had been scheduled to face Britain’s Liam Smith, until the man from Liverpool was forced to withdraw with a skin infection. In his place stepped Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs); and although Ali claimed he was unconcerned by the change and was prepared to fight anyone, he conceded that the late change “kinda sucked.” Munguia entered the ring unbeaten and as a highly-touted prospect, but with limited opposition on his record. For that reason, the Nevada State Athletic Commission had earlier refused to allow him to fight Gennady Golovkin last week. Munguia proved that he was not only a worthy foe but that he is a potential star, as he swatted Ali aside.
If the true level of skill was uncertain at the beginning of the evening, the size differential was not. Ali, a natural welterweight fighting one division higher, was facing a man who, on the night, was a light-heavyweight, and it showed. Munguia hurt Ali with just about the first combination he landed: a right hand a left hook in the opening seconds that bowled Ali over. Ali beat the count but was hurt by another left, and then dropped a second time by another hook and a sweeping right.
“He’s very strong,” acknowledged Ali afterward. “He caught me early and that kind of messed things up. No excuses. He was the better man.”
Whatever the size difference, Ali showed a heavyweight heart as he tried to fight off Munguia’s charge in the second; but as well as the extra heft, Munguia displayed talent and showed impressive timing, moving in and out and landing at will. A big right hand hurt Ali in the second, and another dropped him to his knees.
Ali survived that round, and the third, too – even landing some flush hooks as he fought a desperate rearguard action. Yet another hook hurt him again and appeared to put him down; but although referee Gary Rosato judged it to be a slip, he argued vociferously for either the corner or the doctor to halt the contest between rounds. Neither did so, but once Munguia sent Ali down for a fourth time in the next round, Rosato had no hesitation in waving off the fight without a count. Time was 1:02 of the fourth.
“This is huge for me. It’s a dream come true,” said Munguia. “I want to thank the Nevada Commission for giving me a path to this fight. And now I’m a champion.”
Azat Hovhannisyan hurled his hooks at Rey Vargas, and he let rip with right hands. He bloodied Vargas (and, largely unintentionally, butted him on more than one occasion). But he couldn’t beat him. Mexico’s Vargas retaliated with ferocious body shots, straight counter punches to the head, and superior boxing skills and ring generalship; at the end of 12 grueling rounds, he scored a unanimous decision win to retain his super bantamweight strap and maintain his unbeaten record.
It was clear from the beginning that Vargas (32-0, 22 KOs) was not going to have his own way against the Los Angeles-based Armenian, who swarmed after him with lead left hooks and landed a thumping right hand that buckled Vargas’ knee in the first. He kept after his foe in the second, but the Mexican began to time him, using his superior reach to spear the shorter man as he lunged forward. By the third, Vargas was teeing off with ferocious counter combinations, turning his attention to Hovhannisyan’s body with brutalizing punches.
Hovhannisyan (14-3, 11 KOs) continued to have his moments. However, he caught Vargas with another hook at the end of the fifth, and a trilogy of them at the beginning of the sixth. He landed a body shot of his own to send Vargas backward in the eighth. And he never stopped coming forward, never stopped applying pressure, relentless swarming and arguably shading at least one and perhaps both of the final two rounds. At the final bell, Vargas had blood streaming from cuts above both eyes. But the higher quality of his punching, the greater variety to his offense, and in particular those body shots, carried the day, as Vargas swept the judges’ cards by scores of 116-112, 117-111 and a too-wide 118-110.
Photos: Ed Mulholland
VERONA, N.Y. -- In June 2001, Lehlohonolo “Lehlo” Ledwaba was a highly-fancied super bantamweight, proud possessor of a world title that he was slated to defend on HBO against Mexican Enrique Sanchez. When Sanchez was injured with just days to go, the card’s promoters found a late replacement: a young Filipino who had never fought in the United States and had in fact only just agreed to work with trainer Freddie Roach. As he entered the ring that night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, few in the arena or watching on TV knew much, if anything, about Manny Pacquiao; five rounds later, after Pacquiao had smashed Ledwaba into a heavy defeat, he was on his way to becoming a star.
It would be unreasonable to expect Jaime Munguia to follow the career path of the Filipino phenomenon; but on Saturday night, in the more bucolic surroundings of Turning Stone Resort and Casino in upstate New York, he does have the opportunity to at least replicate Pacquiao’s star-making turn against Ledwaba when he steps in at late notice to challenge junior middleweight title holder Sadam Ali.
Until a couple of weeks ago, Ali was training to fight Britain’s Liam Smith, known best on these shores for suffering a one-sided stoppage loss to Canelo Alvarez in 2016 in his only career defeat, until Smith was forced to withdraw with an apparent allergic reaction. In stepped Munguia, a tall, young, undefeated boxer with a tough, brawling, power-punching style – and quite possibly the perfect combination of youth, strength and skill to spring the last-minute upset.
The Mexican was just four years old when Pacquiao knocked off Ledwaba, and only six when Vitali Klitschko, who took on Lennox Lewis with minimal notice and nearly dethroned the heavyweight champion in what would be the final bout of the big Brit’s career, before Lewis’ fists opened a horrendous and fight-ending cut over the Ukrainian’s eye. But if he wants a more recent example of a man stepping in, stepping up and making the most of an unexpected opportunity, he could do worse than look at the man who will be in the opposite corner on Saturday night.
Ali was not exactly a last-minute selection to face Miguel Cotto last December. But he was to a large degree the last man standing, the best foe available after various other options had been floated and shot down. He was widely considered an uninspiring opponent for Cotto’s farewell contest and was not expected to offer much of a challenge; instead, he rocked the future Hall-of-Famer early and outfought him late to send the Puerto Rican into retirement with a surprise defeat.
Now the roles are reversed. Ali is the man with the belt around his waist, the experienced champion, the favorite. Munguia is the younger man, the underdog, the B side. So little is known of him in the United States that Munguia’s reputation wouldn’t take a hit if he suffered a competitive loss: he has no reputation to protect at this stage. But a victory would propel him into the mix at the very top of an increasingly competitive junior middleweight division.
Ali knows that; and he knows what it is like to suffer a loss when seemingly on the way to the top — as he did when he was stopped by Jessie Vargas in 2016. Now he is back at the hilltop and has no intention of being rolled back down to sea level — not by Munguia, not by anybody. For Munguia, Saturday presents an opportunity to experience the exultation of achieving the unexpected. Ali knows what that feeling is like; his goal is to prevent Munguia from finding out for himself.
Official Weights from Verona:
Sadam Ali: 153 pounds
Jaime Munguia: 152.75 pounds
Rey Vargas: 120 pounds
Azat Hovhannisyan: 121 pounds
HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney speaks with Sadam Ali ahead of his junior middleweight title fight against Jaime Munguia. Ali vs. Munguia takes place Saturday, May 12 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.
For WBO super welterweight king Sadam Ali, his first title defense against Mexican Jaime Munguia represents a role reversal of sorts. When he won the belt from Miguel Cotto, he did so as an underdog third-choice opponent fighting above his natural weight class against a reigning champ in his adopted home ring at Madison Square Garden. Now, against Munguia, Ali is the favored champion fighting in his home state of New York (though in Verona instead of his native Brooklyn) and he's fighting an underdog second-choice opponent after original foe Liam Smith dropped out due to a skin infection.
For Munguia, however, he's fulfilling a familiar role. He was the first proposed opponent for Gennady Golovkin once Saul Alvarez was forced to withdraw, but the Nevada commission nixed the bout. So, he's now the late-sub opponent for Smith, and while he's had some fights at 154 and 160, he's has fought mostly at 147.
Will Munguia do to Ali what Ali did to Cotto, or will Ali do Cotto one better by beating his late sub when Cotto couldn't?
Shocking the World
In retrospect, Ali's win over Cotto should have been foreseen given Cotto's age and injury, but on fight night Ali pulled off a major stunner at MSG by hurting Cotto several times and winning a popular unanimous decision that was not backed up by the stats. Cotto actually out-landed Ali 163-139 overall and 55-17 jabs and was the more accurate fighter in all phases (30%-22% overall, 26%-6% jabs, 34%-33% power), but Ali led 122-108 in landed power shots and was the more active fighter (53.9 punches per round to Cotto's 44.7).
The Cotto victory consolidated an excellent four-fight bounce-back for Ali following his ninth-round TKO loss to Jessie Vargas for the vacant WBO welterweight title in March 2016. In his bouts against Saul Corral and Johan Perez, Ali won a pair of 10-round decisions that saw him dominate the former while being tested more by the latter. Against Corral, Ali led 155-56 overall and 131-42 power while averaging 64.7 punches per round to Corral's 27.8. Corral enjoyed brief moments of success in rounds eight and 10, but they weren't nearly enough to derail the Ali train.
As for Perez, Ali experienced a bit more resistance as Perez was busier (64.2 per round to Ali's 46.2) and stayed in the fight until Ali staged a surge in the final two rounds (31-18 overall, 26-14 power) to nail down connect leads of 114-103 overall and 95-74 power as well as 25%-16% overall and 35%-18% power. The scores were wide (98-91, 97-92 twice) but he did little more than what was expected. Obviously, he lifted his game against Cotto, a legend. Will he be able to do the same against a relative unknown in Munguia?
In body type and in approach, Munguia resembles current WBC super middleweight titlist David Benavidez, a lanky, big-boned, heavy-handed youngster who walks through fire without flinching while dishing out plenty of punishment. The 21-year-old is a little more than two months older than Benavidez, so if he topples Ali he won't become boxing's youngest titleholder, but his approach is much the same.
In his short fights against Jose Carlos Paz (KO 2), Paul Valenzuela (KO 2) and his rematch with Jhony Navarrete (KO 3), Munguia has faced plenty of fire — he's averaged 66.2 punches per round to his opponents' combined 62.3 — but came out on the right side as he out-landed his foes in total connects per round (21.5 vs. 13.1) and power connects per round (17.6 vs. 7.6). He's been out-jabbed (5.5 vs. 3.9 per round) but he's been much more accurate (33%-21% overall, 17.2%-16.7% jabs, 41%-26% power) and his body attack has been robust (36.7% of his total connects in these fights vs. his foes' 27.2%).
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. Munguia will need that soul-sapping trait if he is to beat the speedy and mobile Ali.
Inside The Numbers
Ali (last 4 fights) put up pedestrian numbers offensively and better than avg. defensively, as opponents landed just 28.7% of their power punches and just 7.8 per round (wgt. class avg.: 37% & 12.1 landed per round). Munguia (last 4 fights) was busy (68.3 thrown per round) and accurate, landing 40.7% of his power punches vs. inferior opponents. Ali is by far his best opponent.
Munguia will be dangerous every second of every round in this fight because he is the much bigger shot-for-shot hitter and he has the size and power to exploit Ali's vulnerable chin and test his stamina. That said, Ali has fought the much better competition and he has more experience in longer fights. He is also the much faster fighter; while Munguia has decent speed at 147, his fights at 154 and 160 have shown him to be a bit ponderous in his punching and in his movement.
If Ali can neutralize Munguia in the early rounds, his speed and technique will allow him to pull away in the second half and capture a unanimous decision.
By Eric Raskin
When one door closes, another one opens. And then when that one closes, another one opens. Until eventually every door between 154 and 160 pounds has opened and closed several times, and the music stops, and you look around … and you’re left with a more intriguing fight to watch on May 12 than the one you started out with.
Jaime Munguia’s path to occupying the corner opposite Sadam Ali at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y., (Saturday, 10 PM on HBO World Championship Boxing) was akin to one of those weird backroads through an industrial complex that Waze leads you down when there’s a traffic jam on the freeway. When the Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez rematch got scrapped, the little-known Mexican prospect got the call to face Golovkin – only to have the Nevada State Athletic Commission reject the fight. So Munguia stayed in training for a minor fight on May 12 in his hometown of Tijuana. Then, barely two weeks before that date, British veteran Liam Smith, stricken by a skin condition, pulled out of his bout with Ali, also scheduled for May 12, and Munguia stepped in. So here we are, on short notice, and with a fight that seems to have more upset potential than the one we were originally supposed to get. Ali vs. Munguia pairs two fighters in their 20s with a combined record of 54-1, one taking a huge leap up in class, the other trying to stay focused after an opponent change and just five months removed from the biggest win of his career.
On December 2 at Madison Square Garden, Ali gave Miguel Cotto an unfriendly send-off, upsetting the Puerto Rican icon in what was drawn up as a future Hall of Famer’s perfunctory victory lap. Ali had gone from unbeaten hot prospect to afterthought overnight when he got knocked out by Jessie Vargas in March 2016, and the Cotto win turned him back into an A-side just as suddenly. Brooklyn’s Ali, 29, is amped to be back in this position, and he’s come around to feeling grateful for the Vargas loss.
“With Vargas, I just depended on skill, ” Ali tells Inside HBO Boxing. “Success has always come to me, and I took it for granted, and I didn’t put in the work that I really needed to put in. I don’t want to make any excuses. I definitely deserved that loss. He was the better man that night. But I know what I did wrong. And I learned, and it showed with my preparation for the Cotto fight. In life sometimes, you have to learn. Even if you learn it the hard way, sometimes it’s just meant for it to happen.”
Against Cotto, Ali (26-1, 14 KOs) delivered a complete performance on his biggest stage, hurting Cotto early, out-speeding the older man repeatedly, and gutting his way through the veteran warrior’s determined rallies. It was an effective reminder that the same kid who represented the United States in the 2008 Olympics and had the look of a future champion when he schooled and stopped Luis Carlos Abregu in Atlantic City in 2014 didn’t turn into a worthless bum just because one fighter caught him on the chin. Ali has fast hands, a dangerous overhand right, a slick counter left hook, and consistent head movement. He’s in a new weight class – he was a 147-pounder until the Cotto fight – but he now has a belt at junior middle and says he feels comfortable there.
No fighter, however, can be entirely comfortable about fighting a low-profile opponent on two weeks’ notice.
“It kind of sucks,” Ali bluntly admits of the late opponent change. “But at the same time, I’ve been fighting since I was eight. As an amateur you don’t even know how the guy fights. You’re not watching tape on him. You just go in there and, boom, you have to adapt to the style and win your fight. So I’m used to that. And when I get prepared for a fight, I don’t focus on just one style anyway. Somebody can come in there with a reputation as a brawler but then the whole training camp they train to move and jab. So I don’t really focus on one thing. I’m prepared for whatever comes.”
In the case of the 21-year-old Munguia, who sports a shimmering record of 28-0 with 24 KOs, the videos seem to indicate a straightforward assignment for Ali. The Mexican, who is trained by former Oscar De La Hoya cornerman Robert Alcazar, is big and strong for a junior middleweight, and it translates when opponents react to his punches. Munguia has power in both mitts; see the sick right hand he put Juan Macias Montiel to sleep with February 2017 or the left to the body that finished off Juan Carlos Paz a year later. That Mexican left to the liver is Munguia’s money punch. He fits many of the Mexican boxer stereotypes, really: Munguia likes to slug and has an offense-first mindset, and he isn’t the least bit hard to hit.
He insists he was unfairly denied the opportunity to fight Golovkin, and the Ali consolation prize is Munguia’s chance to prove his point.
“Though all the criticisms made about me have motivated me to be where I am,” Munguia says, “I will show that they were all wrong. I will crown myself as world champion on May 12.”
Munguia might prove stylistically made to order for Ali, but he’s also the most dangerous type of opponent. He can bang, he knows more about Ali than Ali knows about him, and, other than the zero at the end of his record, he has nothing to lose. Ali is well aware of all of this.
“I know he has power in both hands, but I don’t know much else,” Ali says. “But I know this is a huge opportunity for him to go out there and be on HBO and possibly win a world title. It gets no bigger than that. So I know he’s going to be pumped. He’s coming at his best. I expect him to be ready for the fight. It should be a great one.”
Before Ali and Munguia step into the ring, Rey Vargas (31-0, 22 KOs) and Azat Hovhannisyan (14-2, 11 KOs) will square off with a junior featherweight belt at stake, and if results against common opponent Ronny Rios are to be trusted, Hovhannisyan is not to be taken lightly. The 29-year-old Armenian stopped Rios in six rounds less than two months ago to earn this opportunity, whereas Vargas went the 12-round distance with Rios on HBO last August. Mexico City’s Vargas, 27, has established himself as one of those undeniably talented prospects who never quite puts it all together over the course of a single fight, and Hovhannisyan is hoping to seize upon whatever openings the taller Vargas gives him.
“Hovhannisyan is explosive and fast,” Vargas acknowledges, “but I will be prepared to win in exciting fashion to show that I’m the best.”
“This is the most important fight of my entire career,” declares Hovhannisyan, who has won his last eight fights in a row. “I’ve prepared for this fight my entire life. Vargas is a great champion and this will be a hard fight, but I will do anything it takes to win.”
Take a look back at Sadam Ali's impressive upset of boxing legend Miguel Cotto in December 2017 in the final fight of Cotto's career. Watch Ali defend his junior middleweight title against Jaime Munguia on Saturday, May 12 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.