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.