Jaime Munguia has taken upon himself to knock down tired stereotypes that have marked boxing for years.
Munguia, a 21-year-old, 154-pound world champion from Tijuana who makes the first defense of his World Boxing Organization belt Saturday on HBO (7 p.m. PDT), stands to defy the beliefs that the sport is void of young talent and that it prioritizes box office profits over the safety of the participants.
In April, Munguia (29-0, 25 knockouts) emerged as a candidate to replace suspended Canelo Alvarez and fight unbeaten middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin May 5 in Las Vegas after Alvarez tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol.
Nevada Athletic Commission Executive Director Bob Bennett said he received endorsements of Munguia for the bout from Golovkin promoter Tom Loeffler, MGM Resorts and HBO.
“The health and safety of the fighter comes first, and while the state could’ve made good money off that fight and we could’ve caved, [Nevada Athletic Commission Chairman] Anthony Marnell and I stepped up for Munguia,” Bennett said.
“My concern was that while this was young man with a stellar record at 154 pounds, I hadn’t seen him fight a puncher the likes of Golovkin, who’s the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. It was premature to send [Munguia] in there against a middleweight who’s been in the division for 12 years. We weren’t about to take this young man with a promising career and let him get banged up by Gennady.”
California later approved of World Boxing Council top-ranked light-middleweight Vanes Martirosyan becoming a second-round knockout victim of Golovkin.
And Munguia — aided by the profile boost of the Golovkin rejection — landed as a May 12 replacement foe for World Boxing Organization 154-pound champion Sadam Ali in New York.
In a stunning showing, the far bigger Munguia knocked down Ali three times en route to a fourth-round technical knockout, delivering Mexico its newest world champion and sending him back to Las Vegas on Saturday for his first title defense, versus England’s former world champion, Liam Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs), at the Hard Rock Hotel.
“I’m grateful about the [Nevada] decision. From night to day, the status of my name was elevated. It put me at the forefront of articles, asking why I can’t face Gennady Golovkin, but someone like Conor McGregor can face Floyd Mayweather without ever putting on the boxing gloves,” Munguia said.
“Things happen for a reason. And now I’m a world champion. I think my performance made them think, ‘Wow, we were wrong about this kid … .’ They didn’t know what I was capable of. And now on Saturday, it’s up to me to erase all doubts.”
Among those most thrilled by Munguia’s burst to prominence are his promoter from Mexico, Fernando Beltran, and Saturday fight promoter Eric Gomez of Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy.
After spending months hearing that boxing’s popularity is waning amid the Alvarez scandal, Gomez said the spark provided by Munguia is refreshing.
“I’ve been hearing that stuff since we started Golden Boy Promotions in 2002, that after Oscar, there’d be nobody … but boxing has been around for 100 years and there’s a reason for that,” Gomez said. “Whenever you think it’s down and out, someone new comes up and excites the fans.”
Munguia arrives with a stirring personal story.
The son of a failed heavyweight, Mungia grew up in the gym with his father Jaime Munguia Sr., whose career closed with a record of 2-11 with one knockout.
“If it wasn’t for my dad, I wouldn’t be anyone. Thanks to him, I became a boxer. He’s always accompanied me to the gym, to check my errors,” the younger Munguia said. “My dad would always say for me to take care of myself, tell me the sport is full of risks.
“More than that, I’m successful now because of what I had inside of me. I always wanted to train.”
Beltran has watched Munguia progress through more than 100 amateur bouts in Mexico, the U.S. and Cuba, and compares his work ethic to Manny Pacquiao’s.
“His father was a very bad fighter … I used to support his father, bought him gloves, that kind of thing,” Beltran said. “I’ve seen the kid in the gym since he was 7. I didn’t know if he was good or not, but the father said, ‘I’ve got something in my son,’ and I was like, ‘OK, let’s roll the dice and let’s see if something happens … .
“I was lucky. He’s a very humble, disciplined kid, and no one in the division punches harder.”
Munguia saw the effect of that power while polishing himself in 16 pro bouts in Tijuana, which brought him rugged tests from opponents in bouts fought before impassioned countrymen.
Fighting there “got me used to getting rid of the nerves of fighting in front of a big crowd. I fought different fighters — guys who’d come forward, guys with a lot of experience. Some were very good, others weren’t,” Munguia said.
“In Mexico, they come forward and throw that left hook to the liver, which has become a strong point of mine. All of it helped me to gain the experience that made me a world champion at 21.”
Beltran recently aligned Munguia with former Oscar De La Hoya trainer Roberto Alcazar in Los Angeles.
“He doesn’t just want to be a champion as a big puncher, he wants to be special, and that’s a process,” Alcazar said. “I don’t doubt he’s going to accomplish that.
“Smith’s only loss is to Canelo and it took Canelo nine rounds to stop him, so Jaime can prove how special he is by stopping Smith before nine rounds.”