Jaime Munguia has been tagged as a future superstar for so long that one wonders why it hasn’t happened for him yet. He has not faltered in the squared circle, amassing a 42-0 record with 33 knockouts. A former world champion and still only 27 years of age, the Mexican fights in a crowd-pleasing manner too. Usually these ingredients would solidify someone as a pay-per-view hero. But as Munguia prepares to face Britain’s John Ryder on the 27th January in Phoenix, Arizona, he remains something of an aficionado's concern.
Starting as a teenager a decade ago, Munguia enjoyed, and occasionally endured, a hard-knock fistic upbringing. Mexico is a baptism of fire for emerging boxers, which is why the nation has produced so many legends of the sport.
Munguia looked all set to become one when, as a 28-0 contender, he took on WBO light middleweight champion Sadam Ali. ‘World Kid’ had won the title from no less a luminary than Miguel Cotto. The New Yorker hoped to follow up his breakout win with a victory over his precocious Mexican challenger. But Munguia had other plans, knocking Ali down four times and finishing him in the fourth round of their title bout. A star was born.
New champion Munguia’s reign started well, as he knocked down former WBO champion Liam Smith on the way to a unanimous decision nod. But the remainder of our subject’s reign was not as impactful. While he racked up a further four post-Smith title defences, his level of competition was criticised.
Munguia beat Brandon Cook, Takeshi Inoue, Dennis Hogan and Patrick Allotey. Cook has never contested a championship-distance fight since. The other three have all lost since, Allotey doing so by first-round knockout to Serhii Bohachuk. A champion’s level of competition is supposed to get better, not worse. But none of the fighters he beat after the Smith victory were world level competitors.
The champion vacated his world strap to pursue a campaign at middleweight. Munguia started well, stopping always-game Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan in 11 rounds. The Irishman is a rock-solid gatekeeper and has served as a yardstick for the ambitions of the likes of Chris Eubank Jr, David Lemieux and Erislandy Lara. So far, so good.
But over the course of the next two years, Munguia’s middleweight tilt never kicked into high gear. His best win was probably a decision win over Gabriel Rosado. Like O’Sullivan, the Philadelphian is a high-level gatekeeper known for giving difficult fights to big names, but rarely beating them. The only other name of note was Kamil Szeremeta, a Gennady Golovkin knockout victim who Munguia finished in six rounds.
Jaime’s other four middleweight foes were frustratingly anonymous fodder. Fans began to turn on the Mexican boxer due to his perceived poor level of competition. Munguia had won his first world title four years before and since doing so, his career had stagnated. But in boxing, you are often only one fight away from glory. Against Sergiy Derevyanchenko, Munguia found the fight he was looking for.
The bout would serve as Munguia’s first up at super middleweight. On paper, the Ukrainian’s record could be compared to those of O’Sullivan and Rosado. 14-4 going in, was Derevyanchenko another non-entity designed to pump up Munguia’s numbers? Far from it.
Of those four losses, three had come in world title fights. Sergiy took Daniel Jacobs to a split decision for the IBF middleweight title. He gave Gennady Golovkin the toughest test of his career at that point in a Fight of the Year contender for the same title before losing a decision. WBC kingpin Jermall Charlo would then outscore him the following year. Yes, Derevyanchenko was far from unbeaten, but he gave some of the best fighters of the era their most difficult fights.
Munguia would follow in the footsteps of these icons by contesting another Derevyanchenko Fight of the Year candidate. A ferocious war that will live long in the memories of those who witnessed it, and on the body clocks of the combatants, Munguia was behind on two scorecards going into the final round. A fighter who has too often avoided adversity found himself in the centre of it.
But Munguia defied his unwanted reputation as a coddled prospect. Reaching into a deep well of resilience, he knocked Derevyanchenko down with an almighty body shot. The 10-8 round turned the fight on its head and saw him walk away with a hard-fought unanimous decision. It was an astonishing fight punctuated by a dramatic victory.
Now Munguia must build on his momentum. John Ryder is a step in the right direction. Some will scoff, but the Brit has beaten Danny Jacobs and Zach Parker in recent fights. ‘The Gorilla’ lost to ‘Canelo’ last time out, but did go the distance with the Mexican phenom. This is the sort of company Munguia wants to find himself in too. A victory over Ryder could even set up a fight with Alvarez, now the two countrymen are campaigning at the same weight.
What Munguia must not do is take a step back after this bout. Ryder should be his last bout against a “best of the rest” type of opponent. He has faced plenty of those and a number of fighters who simply fit into the category of “the rest”. At 27 years old, with 42 fights and a world title behind him, Munguia can become a superstar. If he doesn’t, at this point, he only has himself to blame.