If his lone appearance of 2023 wasn’t enough of a clue, the main event on Saturday (DAZN, 8 PM EST) makes it crystal clear.

For 27-year old former junior middleweight titlist Jaime Munguia (42-0, 33 KO), the training wheels are off.

It seems an odd thing to say for someone who has won a major title already, but the evidence for years suggested a fighter whose handlers weren’t quite sure yet. Munguia drew buzz as a prospect and was briefly considered as an opponent for Gennadiy Golovkin in 2018. The Nevada State Athletic Commission intervened to kill that idea but wins over Sadam Ali and Liam Smith that year suggested big things ahead.

Five years went by before Munguia picked up a win that spoke to any serious progression in his career. Sure, he defended his belt five times but the opposition was largely nondescript. Perhaps a near disaster against Dennis Hogan (Munguia escaped with a narrow decision) in 2019 lingered. 

Munguia was a fun fighter but as the year’s ticked by the impression grew that he wasn’t being pointed toward being a serious player. Gabriel Rosado in 2021 was his most notable win since Smith. It felt like the case of a fighter who was being maneuvered away from chances to lose more than chances to grow. 

Last year, we got something different.  

While he might have been officially a modest 14-4, Sergiy Derevyanchenko has been a hard out for everyone. It was the case again when he faced Munguia last June. Down on the cards, Munguia dropped Derevyanchenko in the final round to secure the point he needed from two judges for a decision win.

It was a hell of a fight, guts and guile displayed by both men. The BWAA just selected it their fight of the year for 2023. 

And, importantly, Munguia isn’t going backwards. On Saturday, he will face another solid veteran. 35-year old John Ryder (32-6, 18 KO) lost wide in his last fight but lasted the distance against super middleweight champion Saul Alvarez. It snapped a four-fight win streak that included a win over Daniel Jacobs. It could have been a nine-fight win streak, and a WBA super middleweight title, with a little better luck on the cards in a disputed loss to Callum Smith. 

Ryder isn’t a world beater but he’s still a contender at super middleweight. Paired with Derevyanchenko, a sign that Munguia is being steered with purpose toward opportunities that matter.    

After all this time, the trigger is being pulled on the career of Munguia and that worth paying attention to. 

While his defensive liabilities remain, Munguia has shown toughness and remained one of the more entertaining television fighters around his weight. His hands are heavy. He might never ascend the division but it’s time for him to try.

The position is certainly there for him. Munguia is the WBO’s number one contender to Alvarez and is number two for the WBC behind Christina Mbilli. For the WBC, that’s really a number three because David Benavidez’s interim title status makes him the real mandatory there. Benavidez is also the guy everyone should want to see get his shot first.

With a win on Saturday though, Munguia will make a solid case for next in line behind Benavidez and he’s still only 27. The relationship between Alvarez and Golden Boy, Munguia’s handlers, frayed long ago but if Alvarez opts to make Benavidez wait past the fall of this year, Munguia could find himself suddenly an option. 

Or he could be there as a contender for the winner of an Alvarez-Benavidez fight.

John Ryder will be waiting on Saturday to play obstacle but, with a win, Munguia will take a big step toward being in the position many thought he would be years ago. 

Cliff’s Notes…

Kenshiro scraped by a tougher than expected challenge from Carlos Canizales and 2024 already has two serious fight of the year candidates to remember when December rolls around. That scrap, and Jason Moloney-Saul Sanchez, have the year off to a blazing start in the ring…Natasha Jonas and Mikaela Mayer was a hell of a fight, regardless of who one thinks won. Let’s hope they do it again. Jonas is having a nice run and Mayer only loses nail biters…Naoya Inoue-Luis Nery at the Tokyo Dome would make a good fight into a huge event. Boxing can always use those…Seneisa Estrada-Yokasta Valle is good news. That’s as good a fight as can be made in women’s boxing in an era where almost every good fight is being made on that side of the sport.     

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at roldboxing@hotmail.com