A confident, never arrogant Jaime Munguia embraces role as the future of Mexican boxing

Published on YahooSports.com

Less than a year ago, Jaime Munguia fought in Cancun, Mexico, on the undercard headlined by Miguel Berchelt. The 21-year-old’s aggressive, fan-friendly style was clear even if he remained raw.

“Offensively, Munguia is a monster,” Carlos Aguilar, commentator for Tv Azteca, said in Spanish. “He is a monster that emerges from the swamps and eats and tears you apart.”

That night, in that casino, a cross-country flight away from the opposite Mexican coast where he grew up, Munguia tore his opponent apart.

He knocked Jose Carlos Paz down twice in three rounds. The last knockdown came from a left hook to the body. That punch is painful to endure. Perhaps the most painful. Paz felt it. He fell to one knee. He grimaced. He struggled to breathe, then shook his head to show he could not fight anymore.

That fight began a 2018 that drastically changed Munguia’s life. Few boxers had a better year. And on Saturday, in Houston’s Toyota Center against Takeshi Inoue, Munguia looks to continue his ascent. He will defend his WBO super welterweight title. But more than that, Munguia — touted as the next great Mexican boxer — continues his march toward that unofficial but important title.

If soccer remains its most popular sport, boxing is Mexico’s Freudian id. For better or worse, it speaks to the culture’s deeply rooted machismo. And few things, in Mexico, are more overly reliant on that machismo than boxing. Historically, Tepito — a borough of Mexico City — has produced some of the country’s top boxing talent. Carlos Zárate, “Ratón” Macías, “El Púas” Olivares, and Kid Azteca all come from Tepito.

More recently, however, Tijuana has grown and attracted Mexico’s top boxing talent. Julio César Chávez — the standard by which every Mexican boxer gets measured against, even if unfair — moved there once he outgrew the competition in his hometown of Culiacán, Sinaloa. Among the city’s many boxing world champions, Érik Morales and Antonio Margarito are from Tijuana, so too is Munguia.

And while there is a large difference between Mexico City, the country’s cultural center, and Tijuana, a geographic borderland influenced by the United States as much as by the Mexican capital, boxing is one thing that unites across Mexico. And when certain young champions come along, someone like Munguia, the entire country takes notice.

“A lot of people have told me I’m the future of boxing … the future of Mexican boxing,” Munguia said to Yahoo Sports, in Spanish. “That could be a burden … but it’s also motivation to keep doing what we’ve been doing. To keep moving forward, to demonstrate and prove what people are saying. I think we can do it. And we will.”

Munguia’s confidence — which, when he talks, never strays into arrogance — comes from the many years he’s been in and around the sport. The son of a former boxer, Munguia estimates he was 4 or 5 years old when he first sparred. He was 10 years old when he first fought as an amateur. Training in the same gym as Antonio Margarito — one of his early boxing idols — Munguia eventually won a gold medal in the Mexican national championships. Too young to fight in the 2012 London Olympics and too impatient to wait another four years, Munguia turned professional. He was 16 years old.

“I never lacked for anything,” Munguia said, noting how his story isn’t the typical one associated with boxers who, growing up in abject poverty, must fight to survive. Raised in Tijuana’s Colonia Xico, Munguia didn’t grow up around affluence either. With a few exceptions, in Mexico and worldwide, rich kids don’t box. “My mother worked and so did my father. I always went to school. I never needed anything, but I wanted to be more.”

It wasn’t until a few years into his professional career that Munguia thought the more he sought, could come through boxing.

“I think I was 18 or 19,” Munguia recalls the age when he had that realization. Until then, he had no real plans for his future. “I began to think I could do something with this. Before that I didn’t give boxing much thought. I only fought because I liked it. Nothing more. But after that I began noticing that I had certain qualities.”

Watch Munguia fight and it doesn’t take long to notice one of those qualities is his style of fighting. There are plenty of boxers who are aggressive. Munguia is more than that. There is a suddenness in how he fights.

“I think you are born with it,” Munguia says when asked about his style of fighting. “I’ve always fought this way. I’ve always gone after my rivals, always in search of the knockout. Always.”

The best example of Munguia’s style comes from last May when, as a late-replacement, he fought Sadam Ali. Until then, most people only knew Munguia as the boxer who almost fought Gennady Golovkin. That opportunity ended when the Nevada Athletic Commission didn’t approve the fight, citing Munguia’s lack of experience.

That supposed lack of experience gave Ali confidence. He would outbox the young Mexican, he thought. “My plan is to take him to school and I’m going to win,” Ali said before the fight. But he didn’t. Munguia hurt Ali early and never stopped attacking. “I don’t know if it’s my instinct or what it could be,” Munguia explained, “but you notice when your opponent is hurt. You must finish him.”

Munguia mauled Ali before the referee stopped the fight in the fourth round. And as his cornermen carried Munguia on their shoulders and across the ring, he smiled and held the maroon-colored championship belt across his chest.

“It was the first championship, so I was very happy about it,” Munguia remembers. Almost overnight, his life changed; more recognition, more invitations, more friends. More of everything. “But then you realize that it isn’t everything.” Munguia said of that moment when the euphoria wears off. “[You realize] it’s barely the beginning and there’s many more things to accomplish.”

Munguia wants to win championships across different weight divisions and “leave his footprint on the history of boxing.” And he wants to do it by fighting any and every one. “As a Mexican, there is an inherent pride that comes from being known as a fighter who does not fear or back down from taking on the best in the sport,” Munguia wrote for ESPN in September of last year.

Mexican boxing has had plenty of young champions who claimed they would and did fight anyone. But Munguia is different. You can see and hear it in how fans react when he fights. Thus far in his young career, inside the ring, he epitomizes the aggressive style of Mexican boxing. Outside the ring, he has qualities that have helped earned him a following on both sides of the United States-Mexico border. He has a charisma that isn’t flashy. He appears humble. There is a relatability about him.

With a world title wrapped around his waist, it’s easy to forget how young Munguia is. He lives with his parents. His youthful face has yet to accumulate the punishment that will turn into that familiar look shared by all those who fight for a living. At 22, he is younger than some touted prospects and yet, he is already a world champion who will defend his title for a third time.

He is young and despite what he’s accomplished he has room to improve. Defensively, he remains vulnerable. To correct those deficiencies, Roberto Alcazar — Oscar De La Hoya’s former trainer — has been helping Munguia since before the Ali fight.

“More than anything I’ve worked on my boxing, on my defense, on my conditioning. He’s a great trainer,” Munguia says of Alcazar. “He knows lots. We can improve with Roberto’s style.”

If Munguia continues improving, he can become the next great Mexican boxer that some envision. With names like Jermell Charlo, Jarrett Hurd, Erislandy Lara and even Tony Harrison in his division, the competition is there for him to prove himself worthy of such great expectations. At middleweight, he wants Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez. If he can get through them all, the making of the next Mexican boxing idol will become a reality. He will go from being a boxer with qualities that remind many of past Mexican greats, to one that lives among them. Among those who have inspired folk songs, movies and telenovelas. Those who helped forge an entire style of fighting that’s recognized anywhere boxing exists.

It’s all there for Munguia — all he has to do is keep winning.

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