In May of 2018, Gennadiy Golovkin was in search of a new opponent after Canelo Alvarez was suspended for testing positive for a banned substance. As one of the most coveted fights in the sport at the time, fighters in the neighborhood of 160 pounds lined up for the opportunity, having their attorneys and press agents issue releases confirming their readiness and interest.
Several interesting names stepped forward. One was Sergiy Derevyanchenko, who at the time was 12-0 and sat as the No. 1-ranked contender in the IBF, making him Golovkin’s mandatory challenger. Derevyanchenko’s attorney through DiBella Entertainment, Alex Dombroff, insisted that the IBF should pressure Golovkin to defend against the Ukrainian Olympian or be forced to vacate his title. Derevyanchenko would indeed get a chance to fight for the IBF title, and it would be vacated, but would lose a disputed decision to Danny Jacobs in a bid for it later that year.
The other compelling name to step forward was a fresh-faced bold prospect named Jaime Munguia. At just 21 years of age, Munguia had attracted plenty of buzz for his demolition jobs over novices and gatekeepers in the first five years of his career, but hadn’t yet competed in a scheduled 12-rounder, or fought as a full-fledged middleweight. It was a bold maneuver for a fighter who had never even competed in the senior amateur ranks, turning pro after 100 unpaid bouts as a youth at the age of 16. Unfortunately, the Nevada commission deemed it too bold, and rejected Munguia as an opponent when Team Golovkin requested him.
This Saturday, six years later, Munguia and Derevyanchenko will face one another, each now in very different places in their careers.
Derevyanchenko not only got a crack at the IBF title in 2018 against Jacobs, but did ultimately get to face Golovkin, and had a very compelling case to have beaten him in 2019. It was in the midst of a hard-luck streak that saw him drop four out of five fights—close or even debateable decision losses to GGG, Carlos Adames and Danny Jacobs, and a gutsy effort against Jermall Charlo. The 37-year old bounced back with a win over Joshua Conley in July of last year, but teeters on the brink of being considered a gatekeeper rather than a contender by the general public after three unsuccessful bids for a world title.
Where Munguia stands is a little more complex. At 41-0, Munguia has managed to compile one of the sport’s most impressive looking records, but also one of its most frustrating resumes and career arcs—an opinion he shares with his detractors. Where their opinions differ is in whose fault it is. Some fans have insisted that while Munguia has always said the right things, that he hasn’t taken enough agency over his career, and has allowed for more careful matchmaking. Munguia instead places the blame at the feet of his potential opponents.
“We have always pursued high profile fighters like Golovkin and Charlo and those fights haven’t materialized due to circumstances that are out of our control," said Munguia at a recent media workout at his training camp in Big Bear, CA. “[Charlo] hasn’t fought in two and a half years and is still considered the world champion, I am not sure what his plan is moving forward, but I am ready to face him if he wants to get in the ring with me. For Golovkin, we reached out to him for this fight and he didn’t return. I think he may be enjoying a vacation.”
As a 21-year old, Munguia was lauded as a carefree risktaker, courageous enough to offer to step in against one of the sport’s boogeymen. Fast forward to age 26, and Munguia’s carefree attitude is construed an entirely different way, as one driving him to be complacent about pursuing tough tests. One would have to go back to 2018 to his victory over Liam Smith to find the last former, current or future world champion he faced, seemingly always winding up in the ring with a “Plan B” opponent rather than the ones the public wanted and the ones he professed to want to face himself.
One complicating factor seems to have been the lack of in-house options for Munguia within the Golden Boy roster. A June 2022 date against PBC’s Jermall Charlo was reported to have been all but agreed upon, until the two sides could not agree upon broadcast rights, with Golden Boy seeking the involvement of its home network DAZN.
“I was a little sad over how it all turned out,” Munguia told BoxingScene's Jake Donovan last year. “It was a big fight for me and it would have been a big fight for boxing. We both agreed to the fight and I believe the promoters all agreed to the fight as well. Unfortunately, it came down to what network would air the fight.”
Standing in the way of these big plans is Derevyanchenko, a man who did receive three of the opportunities Munguia protests to have wanted--Charlo, Golovkin and Danny Jacobs—but came up short. Nonetheless, he is still regarded is the toughest test for Munguia in at least five years, despite the bout being held at 168, where Derevyanchenko has only fought in tune-up bouts in the past.
Munguia’s saving grace in the court of public opinion has always been plausible deniability when it comes to his role in matchmaking, and that he’s good on the stand, so to speak. He’s always said the right things, and more than that, he’s generally delivered in the ring. Munguia has been one of the most reliably entertaining high-level fighters of the last several years, and when presented with lopsided matchups such as his most recent win over Gonzalo Coria, he’s sufficiently blown them away.
Which is why the discourse surrounding Munguia’s career is so passionate. He’s a fighter fans want to see tested. Not litigated on message boards, but in the trial by fire he requested five years ago.
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman