Photo Credit: Hogan’s Photos
When 21-year old Jaime Munguia blasted out Sadam Ali in four rounds to capture the WBO light middleweight title, the boxing world could barely contain itself.
It was a debut that couldn’t have been written better. In Ali, Munguia destroyed a known commodity coming off his biggest win (a decision over a faded Miguel Cotto), picked up a belt, and had the right nationality (read: Mexican) to be cultivated as a future star in HBO’s top-heavy but overall barren stable of stars.
This set the stage for this past Saturday when Munguia faced off against former belt-holder Liam Smith. Most writers framed this as Munguia’s “coming-out party” with the only drama being whether he could take out Smith faster than Canelo 9th round, body shot KO last year.
Liam Smith had other ideas.
“I’m not going to come here and lie down,” he vowed. “It’s not the Jaime Munguia show for me.”
Those words were backed up by the repeated hooks Smith bounced off Mungia’s head in the opening three rounds. The UK veteran was not opposed to being dirty with his young foe. In one cagey sequence, he blocked Munguia’s bullying attempts with a stiff elbow to the throat followed by a brutal hook.
To Munguia’s credit, he gave as good as he got. He taunted Smith to keep throwing while digging vicious left hooks downstairs. He launched wild uppercuts in anger, trying to split Smith’s guard and send his head into the third row. The crowd went wild at every exchange, particularly when the precocious young champ smashed Smith with a left hook for a sixth-round knockdown.
Fortunately for those in attendance, they were spared some of most audacious hot takes ever heard from the HBO commentary team. Jim Lampley said Munguia’s stance and feints resembled a young Oscar De La Hoya. Later, he compared his power to George Foreman.
If only all of us could find someone to love us as unconditionally as Lampley apparently loves Munguia.
It’s not hard to figure out why HBO is making such absurd statements about Munguia. With Top Rank (ESPN) and Al Haymon (PBC, Showtime) having taken their business elsewhere, HBO finds its cupboard bare of marquee talent. Outside of Canelo and to a lesser extent GGG, there are not any PPV caliber talents. Last night’s over the top lovefest was a transparent attempt to fast-track Munguia as a worthy successor to GGG and Canelo in the coming years.
This hyperbole does Munguia no favors. On Saturday night, we saw an exciting kid who still has much to learn before he can be mentioned with the elite at 154, let alone the suddenly deep middleweight talent pool. Munguia’s power, which looked devastating when inflicted on the smaller Ali, never overwhelmed Smith despite the knockdown.
Munguia’s defense or lack thereof showed that the Nevada State Athletic Commission was wise in nixing him as a replacement opponent for GGG. It almost assuredly saved his confidence and some brain cells.
Jamie Munguia isn’t the monster some thought he was. But in a way, he’s something much more dynamic — he’s a champion less than a year removed from being a prospect and working through his flaws against the higher-caliber competition that comes with being a title-holder.
With title defense #1 under his belt, we can only hope HBO now accepts Munguia for who he is and not who they want him to be.