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.