Munguia looking to put possible final stamp on run at 154

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Jaime Munguia faces his mandatory challenger this Saturday in Monterrey, Mexico.

There are a whole bunch of fights this weekend. You’ve got Lomachenko-Crolla on Friday, and then a trio of televised cards on Saturday, including Claressa Shields and Christina Hammer unifying the middleweight division on Showtime, and Peter Quillin and Caleb Truax meeting in a pivotal super middleweight fight on FS1.

Perhaps the fight most flying under the radar this weekend is the WBO junior middleweight title clash in Monterrey, Mexico, with Jaime Munguia (32-0, 26 KO) returning to his home country to make a mandatory — and perhaps final — defense of his 154-pound belt against Dennis Hogan (28-1-1, 7 KO). The show will stream live on DAZN.

Munguia, 22, burst onto the world stage right about a year ago, and has become one of the most reliably entertaining TV fighters in the sport since then. His name first came up when Canelo Alvarez dropped out of a scheduled May rematch with Gennady Golovkin, leaving Golovkin looking for an opponent to keep the date.

Munguia was brought up. It even looked like he was going to get the fight, a huge step up in competition for the young Mexican prospect, who had some buzz but not a huge amount. But the Nevada commission wouldn’t approve the fight, taking a moral stand on mismatches or whatever, which is fundamentally ridiculous considering it’s the same commission that approved the greatest boxer of a generation fighting a dude who’d never professionally boxed before just months earlier.

Golovkin would eventually take the show to California and dismantle Vanes Martirosyan in short order, but Munguia did find himself a notable fight in short order, as he was signed up to face WBO junior middleweight titleholder Sadam Ali in a May 12 HBO fight. Ali was coming off of an upset of Miguel Cotto in Dec. 2017, and it was hoped that perhaps he’d finally lived up to his earlier career promise.

Munguia absolutely overwhelmed Ali, dropping him twice in the first round, again in the second, and again in the fourth, where he stopped Ali and took the WBO belt. You can argue plenty of things — that Ali had beaten a washed Cotto, that Ali was and is really a welterweight (as Cotto was, for that matter) — but it was still a statement win for the prospect. And while he probably would have lost to Golovkin, a bigger and better fighter than Ali, it was enough to at least make you wonder for a second what might have happened if Nevada had given their customary green light to a matchup that was kinda stupid on paper.

1003510858.jpg - Munguia looking to put possible final stamp on run at 154Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Either way, Munguia was now a world titleholder, and scheduled a quick turnaround in July against former titleholder Liam Smith, a capable and tough veteran fighter whose only loss came to Canelo Alvarez in 2016.

The experienced Smith gave Munguia enough of a fight and tagged him clean often enough to erase the thoughts of Munguia having possibly competed with Golovkin in May. Munguia was still a developing fighter, that was clear. He outgunned Smith overall, which spoke to his size and strength at 154 pounds, not to mention his toughness. Smith exposed a leaky defense in Munguia’s style, but not enough to get the win.

With a rising Mexican star in their ranks, Golden Boy got him back into the ring quickly once more, featuring him on the Canelo-GGG II card on Sept. 15 in Las Vegas. Munguia was the clear favorite against Brandon Cook, a Canadian with a pretty soft 20-1 record, and he did as expected, stopping Cook in three rounds.

Munguia took the rest of 2018 off — he’d deserved it, really, after five total fights, three of them world title contests. He returned on Jan. 26 in Houston, making his DAZN debut with a win over Takeshi Inoue.

Promoter Oscar De La Hoya recently said that this fight with Hogan could be Munguia’s last at 154 pounds. He’s a big junior middleweight, and every year older he gets, the harder it’s going to be to cut that weight down. It’s a smart idea to get out of the division before it becomes a problem rather than after.

If this is his last fight at 154, let’s be honest, it hasn’t exactly been a big, historic run or anything, but it’s been exciting — more than that, it’s been promising. If Munguia can continue to develop into a more complete fighter, perhaps shore up his defense some without sacrificing his offensive firepower, he is at worst a very exciting fighter to watch.

There’s another reason to move up, of course: there just aren’t that many available fights for him at 154. Many of the division’s top names are with PBC, making any big step-up fights extremely difficult to make in today’s boxing world.

As for Saturday’s matchup, 34-year-old “Hurricane” Hogan, born in Ireland and based in Australia, will surely do his best to pull the upset, but the odds are greatly against him. In his biggest fight to date, he dropped a clear decision to Jack Culcay in 2015.

He’s won six straight since then, none against anyone who would be considered a contender. His status as a mandatory challenger is more a reflection on how goofy sanctioning body rankings are than anything, because it’s not as if anyone else has him ranked in the top 10 at 154.

If Munguia does as anticipated on Saturday night, and then moves up to 160, that should be exciting. He’s been handled pretty carefully since breaking through, and for good reason — he’s still a young, flawed fighter, partly learning on the job.

If he goes to middleweight, a lot of people will want to see him immediately jump into the mix with fellow DAZN stars like Canelo, Golovkin, Daniel Jacobs, or Demetrius Andrade, but there would be logic behind giving him a fight or two to acclimate to the new weight, too, and save him for a bigger fight in 2020.

There are some good potential tests for Munguia at 160 before he dives into the deep end. As much as we might not want to watch more development, a fight against, say, Gabriel Rosado would be interesting to start.

But Hogan has to be dealt with first. Munguia can’t afford any kind of slip against the challenger, who is frankly and admittedly being overlooked by most of us. That’s fine for fans — if we’re wrong, other than you degenerate gamblers, who cares? — but it can’t extend to fighters, and usually doesn’t.

Expect the usual hard charging approach from Munguia, with perhaps a little more nuance as he continues to get better and sand down his rougher edges. It should be too much for Hogan, as Munguia looks to keep working toward greater glory.

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