By Francisco Salazar
It was not that long ago that Jaime Munguia was fighting on undercards of dimly-lit gymnasiums or halls throughout Mexico.
In fact, it was happening as early as Mar. 17. Munguia fought before a handful of people inside the Arena Jose Sulaiman in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, where he easily dispatched of gatekeeper Johnny Navarrete in three rounds.
Less than two months later, Munguia has scored an impressive knockout of Sadam Ali, winning the WBO junior middleweight title in the process.
At 21 years of age, the world is at his fingertips, but the challenges in and out of the ring will become more difficult for Munguia.
Munguia will face Liam Smith of England in the first defense of his world title belt at the WBO title tonight at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The 12 round bout, along with the WBA junior lightweight bout between titleholder Alberto Machado and Rafael Mensah, will air live on HBO (10 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. PT).
Munguia (29-0, 25 knockouts), who resides in the boxing hotbed of Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, could not have picked a more opportune venue to make his title defense. Munguia has fought in Las Vegas before, knocking out Paul Valenzuela at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino on Dec. 9.
He will face the toughest test on paper in Smith under the brighter lights of HBO, where Munguia will fight for the third time on that platform.
Smith was originally scheduled to fight Ali, but had to withdraw from the fight about two weeks prior due to an allergic reaction to his skin during training camp. Munguia took the fight, with the mandate from the WBO that the winner of the Ali-Munguia fight had to fight Smith.
"Liam Smith is a tough fighter," said Munguia at Thursday's press conference. "We know what kind of style he has. He's the type of fighter who will come forward and throw a lot of punches. He has an advantage because he's been in big fights before."
"Smith is the kind of fighter who will stand in front of you with a high guard and then suddenly throw a lot of punches."
Munguia has stopped his last six opponents. His power has made him an intriguing fighter to watch, along with his six-foot tall frame.
Munguia is trained by Roberto Alcazar, who is best known for training Oscar De La Hoya during the early part of his career. Munguia knows there will be people who will favor Smith tonight, but he wants to prove he is capable beating Smith.
"I've had over a hundred amateur fights," said Munguia, who is promoted by Zanfer Promotions and signed a two-fight deal with Golden Boy prior to the Ali fight. "We both come forward and we both throw a lot of punches, so there is a high possibility that this fight will end in a knockout. If we don't get the knockout, I'm prepared to go the 12 rounds."
An impressive victory tonight over Smith could put Munguia in a scenario where he could possibly begin to unify the division. Munguia could also fulfill an involuntary defense in his hometown, where he has not fought since July 1 of last year.
Munguia had a breakthrough performance against Ali and could put together a long run of defending the WBO title and winning many more.
"This has been the best camp of (my) life. I am very prepared. My sparring has gone well. I feel great and I will show that on Saturday."
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing