Thursday, May 2, 2024

Alvarez-Munguia: A Fight Of The Year Candidate?

Despite suffering a setback in May 2022 in losing a twelve round unanimous decision to Dmitry Bivol in a failed bid to become a two-time Light-Heavyweight world champion, the career of Undisputed Super-Middleweight world champion Saul “Canelo" Alvarez has continued to go strong as he has remained a fully undisputed champion in the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division since he completed the unification process in stopping Caleb Plant in November 2021. The fact that Alvarez has remained undisputed champion for nearly three years is an accomplishment few can lay a claim to. Not only because of the obvious hurdles that a champion encounters every time they enter the ring to defend their championship, but also and perhaps more specifically, the red tape that occurs with regard to the respective sanctioning organizations, all of whom have obligations that their portion of a world championship that is part of a unified or undisputed crown, must be defended against a mandatory challenger of their designation on an annual basis, which if a champion fails to do so or is not granted an extension, often results in the title being stripped from the champion.

The political elements of the sport aside, Alvarez as a Super-Middleweight has been nothing short of dominant in continuing to defend his crown against the best the division has to offer. In his last outing,  Alvarez dominated former Undisputed Jr. Middleweight world champion Jermell Charlo in September of last year. Frankly, it was a case of Alvarez’ natural strength and skill being too much for Charlo, who moved up two weight divisions to try and defeat Alvarez. A one-sided victory for Alvarez, a twelve round unanimous decision, marked his sixth successful title defense since first becoming a Super-Middleweight world champion in December 2020 with a unanimous decision over then WBO world champion Callum Smith and the third since he fully unified the division. 

While there remains no shortage of potential challengers in and around the Super-Middleweight division, most notably undefeated former WBC Super-Middleweight world champion David Benavidez, who is the current top contender for Alvarez in the World Boxing Council (WBC) Super-Middleweight ratings and is reportedly moving up to the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division after not being able to secure an opportunity against Alvarez, the champion has opted to move forward.  Although if one were to make a list of current Super-Middleweight contenders, there would be many who would point to Benavidez as possibly the most dangerous among them, Alvarez has chosen what could very well be an opponent that is just as dangerous for what will be his seventh title defense. The undefeated top contender and former WBO Jr. Middleweight world champion Jaime Munguia in a fight that will take place on May 4th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV and will be available on a pay-per-view basis through both Prime Video and DAZN.

This is not the first time that Alvarez and Munguia have been potential opponents. Some may recall in 2018 when Alvarez was between the first two fights of his trilogy with Gennady Golovkin, Munguia, who was then a world champion in the Jr. Middleweight division, was slated to move up to the 160lb. Middleweight division to face Alvarez. While there have been no shortage of similar scenarios throughout Boxing history where a world champion in a lower weight division has moved up in weight to seek among other things, more lucrative paydays, the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) declined to sanction what was at that point a potential bout between the two due to what they deemed to be an experience disadvantage between the two. 

Since then, the two fighters have gone in different directions, with Munguia seemingly chasing Alvarez from a distance.  It is indeed true that, despite following Alvarez up in weight through the Middleweight and Super-Middleweight divisions as well as remaining unbeaten in the years since he was denied an opportunity to fight Alvarez, Jaime Munguia has not fought for a world championship in the years since he relinquished his Jr. Middleweight crown. 

In some ways, one might view that as both an injustice as well as somewhat refreshing in the sense that because there are seventeen full weight divisions in the sport, with only one sanctioning organization recognizing a would-be eighteenth division, the Bridgerweight class, it is common to see world champions move up and down the weight scale depending on what opportunities might be available and get into position to fight for more world titles in very little time, even at times getting that opportunity as soon as they move up in weight.  While no circumstance is exactly the same, the fact that Munguia has had to fight his way through, including being tested along the way as any would-be contender even though his status as an unbeaten former world champion remains in tact, has allowed him to make a strong case for himself for the opportunity that is now here against Alvarez.

The question is, what are his chances? One must keep in mind that Munguia has thirty-four knockouts in his forty-three career wins and his punching power has remained as he has moved up in weight. After spending some time under the guidance of the former world champion and Hall of Famer Erik Morales, Munguia will now be led into the biggest fight of his career by another former fighter in the form of Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach. There is one similarity between Roach and Morales. As fighters, both were offensive-minded, and that mentality remains for both as trainers, with Roach a disciple of his former trainer the late great Eddie Futch, being regarded as one of the top trainers in the sport.

Munguia’s first outing with Roach in his corner was successful in January of this year when he scored a ninth round stoppage of former world title challenger John Ryder, sending the always “Game" fighter into retirement. Many will recall Ryder’s valiant effort when he challenged Alvarez for the Undisputed Super-Middleweight crown almost exactly one year ago. In a fight where Alvarez dished out a brutal beating and broke Ryder's nose, Ryder still fought on and made it to the final bell of that encounter.

While some might use the comparison of how Alvarez and Munguia each went on to victory over Ryder as a way to compare who might have an edge between the two as this fight approaches, there will likely also be some who will point out that by the time Munguia fought Ryder, Ryder was on the downside of a fine career and had been in several grueling battles before his twelve rounds with Alvarez. So, the fact that Munguia was able to stop Ryder, whereas Alvarez went on to  a decision victory to retain his championship, may not in any way serve as a reflection of what might happen in this fight. 

What will this fight look like once the champion and challenger are in the ring? The main objective for the challenger as has been the case for most of Alvarez’ previous opposition, will be to apply consistent pressure. The pressure applied however, must be done tactically and not recklessly. Alvarez’ two official losses came against fighters who were master boxers in Floyd Mayweather and Dmitry Bivol. While neither implemented a pressure approach against Alvarez and implemented a more tactical strategy where they did not allow Alvarez to get into a rhythm and dictated the fight from start to finish, the champion is not someone who fights well under pressure and there are many throughout the sport, this observer included who felt his first two fights against Gennady Golovkin, a fighter who similar to Munguia likes to come forward, apply pressure, and break his opponents down, could have gone in favor of Golovkin rather than a draw being rendered in the first fight followed by Alvarez winning the second fight, and ultimately winning the trilogy and seemingly sending Golovkin into retirement. 

Although I felt Golovkin won the first two fights, and simply started too late in the third bout, which allowed Alvarez to win the third bout more convincingly, the common element in the first two fights that could be viewed as a mistake Golovkin made, which Munguia must try to avoid here as he now faces Alvarez is in the middle and late rounds, Golovkin backed off from applying pressure just enough where it allowed Alvarez time to adapt. While I felt and still feel that Golovkin did enough to win both of those fights when the final bell rang, if Munguia has success early on in this fight, he must not get complacent and allow Alvarez any wiggle room to get back into the fight on the scorecards if this goes the distance. Simply put, he must leave no doubt as to who is the better fighter.

Of course, there is the possibility that this fight wil not go the distance. For his part, Alvarez has scored knockouts in thirty-nine of his sixty-four professional fights, so he also has the punching power to get an opponent out of there if the opportunity arises. The one thing we have never seen to this point in Alvarez’ career is what would hapen if he is hurt, knocked down, and legitimately in trouble in a fight. Even Gennady Golovkin, a fighter who was one of the most feared knockout artists in the sport with a career knockout percentage of nearly 89%, who had a percentage over 90% prior to his first encounter with Alvarez in September 2017 could not knock Alvarez off his feet, but was able to land several hard shots throughout his three bouts with him and Alvarez was able to stand up to what Golovkin had. If one is to go on evidence up to this point in Alvarez’ career, where he has shared the ring with several Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers, they would conclude that he has a granite chin. What will be interesting to see is not only if Munguia is able to test Alvarez’ chin as others have, but potentially focus a significant portion of his offensive approach to the body. An element Golovkin seemed to implement in parts of the first two fights against Alvarez, but did not sustain it. 

One tactical element that Munguia could use in this fight that Dmitry Bivol was able to do in his victory over Alvarez was he did not allow himself to be baited into traps. There were several instances throughout the fight where Bivol refused to press the action when Alvarez was on the ropes and inviting him to come forward and engage him on the inside. The styles of Bivol, a master boxer and Munguia, a power punching pressure fighter, are different, but what the challenger needs to try and avoid is being baited into traps, especially if it is evident that he is having success and the bait tactics attempted by the champion are an attempt to turn the ebb and flow in his favor, as was the case against Bivol, which did not succeed.

Although this fight might not amount to much more than simply the latest chapter in what will be a Hall of Fame career for the current Undisputed Super-Middleweight champion of the world, the fact that Alvarez not only fully unified the Super-Middleweight division, but has kept it that way in the years since is deserving of praise. Alvarez must keep in mind however, despite his status as now a long-reigning undisputed champion and as one of the biggest stars in the sport of Boxing, every challenger sees him as an opportunity not only for a big payday, not only as a chance to become an undisputed champion, but if they do indeed beat him, an opportunity to hit the proverbial jackpot. While some may feel other contenders might deserve the opportunity to fight Alvarez, Jaime Munguia is the fighter who has the opportunity now and he should be viewed with the respect normally given to a top contender and based on his resume, should be regarded as a dangerous opponent. 

Cinco de Mayo weekend in the sport of Boxing traditionally has been filled with historic battles in the past. Whether Alvarez-Munguia will be the latest to join that long list remains to be seen. 

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

Alvarez vs. Munguia takes place on Saturday, May 4th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV. The fight as well as its full undercard can be seen on both Prime Video and DAZN on a pay-per-view basis for $89.99 and will also be available through traditional cable/satellite providers. The card will begin at 6PM ET/3PM PT with preliminary bouts followed by the pay-per-view portion of the card beginning at 8PM ET/5PM PT.

To order this pay-per-view event on Prime Video, download the Prime Video app on mobile, tablet, or connected streaming devices/Smart TVs or Click here. To order on DAZN, download the DAZN app on your device of choice or Click here.

(*Card and Start time Subject to Change.*)

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