Liam Smith: ‘Jaime Munguia is always going to be there for me to open up on’
If it was customary for a prizefight to be rated like a movie, then Jaime Munguia’s first defense of the WBO junior middleweight title against former titleholder Liam Smith would probably be rated “R”. Both men love to fight, both are known for their durability and both promise to deliver plenty of violence this Saturday at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
There’s also a backstory, so get your popcorn ready.
Over the past year, Smith, who is rated No. 6 by THE RING at junior middleweight, has claimed a brace of victories over Welshman Liam Williams to emerge as the No. 1 challenger for his old WBO title. The other part of the puzzle was initially Sadam Ali who dethroned the legendary Miguel Cotto to emerge as a fresh young titleholder. Ali vs. Smith was set for May 12 at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York.
And then fate intervened. Smith, from Liverpool, England, pulled out of the fight due to a rare allergic reaction and in stepped unbeaten – but untested – Jaime Munguia to save the show. However, the hard-hitting Mexican didn’t just save the show, he stole it, blasting out Ali with a vicious and relentless assault. The Brooklyn star was down four times and stopped in four pulverizing sessions.
“I picked Ali to win because of his experience,” acknowledged Smith (26-1-1, 14 knockouts). “I thought Munguia was a good kid – a good young kid – coming through but he hadn’t experienced anything at the top. He was inexperienced at a high level and I just thought Ali might know too much for him.
“But I wasn’t surprised at how Ali lost. He’s a very small (junior) middleweight and anyone who can make welterweight is not a (junior) middleweight. I couldn’t make welterweight. If you offered me £5 million to fight Amir Khan, I could not make welterweight. Ali got away with it against Cotto because Cotto is not big at 154. For that reason, Cotto didn’t make Ali look small. Munguia is the opposite end of the scale; that looked like 160 against 147.”
Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs) is now rated No. 4 by THE RING and viewed as a major threat to anyone at the 154-pound limit. Last year he was voted THE RING Prospect of the Year, but in just a few short months has established himself as a force at world level. Smith, however, had eyes on the 21-year-old Tijuana native before his coming out party and was only too happy to take the fight despite Munguia’s ominous reputation.
“He’s getting better and better with every fight,” admitted Smith. “But I watched him in February before there was any talk of him fighting (Gennady) Golovkin, Ali or myself. He was unbeaten, he was Mexican and had a bit of backing from Golden Boy (Promotions). I watched him and thought, he’s an alright kid, he’ll be around in a few years. Then, obviously, two or three months later he beats Ali.
“I can’t start raving about him now – he’s got the right people around him who are doing that. I just think he’s getting better with age and experience. His feet are getting a bit better from the outside, but on the inside he hasn’t got the best feet. He’s a bit clumsy defensively when he’s on the inside. Offensively he has all the right things that you want in a fighter. He can punch, he puts his shots together well and he’s very aggressive. He doesn’t like to warm into a fight; he’ll come and he’ll come very early.”
Smith is a vastly different assignment for Munguia. Ali is a mobile boxer who likes to finesse the opposition and pile up points. Smith, despite possessing a good boxing brain, is renowned for having a thirst for combat and he’s been in deep against elite competition. Despite coming unstuck against Canelo (his sole defeat), the Englishman rose from two heavy knockdowns and attacked with gusto until a body shot ended matters in the ninth.
“Munguia and his team know this is totally different fight from Ali,” said Smith confidently. “He’ll have been through it in training and they’re not gonna cut any corners – they’re not stupid. They know this is a tough fight, whether it’s a 12-round war or a six-round war, they know this is gonna be tough.
“Ali looked small and fat at the weigh-in. I couldn’t believe it. He looked terrible to be honest with you. (Team Munguia) will know how strong and tough I am. Munguia’s camp might say I suit him stylistically, but I can say this to you right now: If you offer me Ali’s style or Munguia’s style, then I’ll pick Munguia 10 times out of 10. I don’t want to be chasing Ali around, whereas Munguia is always going to be there for me to open up on.”
So buckle up for a real fistic horror movie – Monster Man Munguia versus War Monger Smith. Will it be a classic of the genre or will there be much to remember come Sunday morning?
“I think it’ll be blood and guts and gritty from the first round,” Smith predicted with enthusiasm. “It’ll catch fire early doors and it’ll be very exciting. They come for it anyway and I’m always there – I’m not running away from no one.
“I’m not concentrating on Munguia, I’m concentrating on Liam Smith. I can put my hands up and say I’ve fought a better fighter than Jaime Munguia. Can he put his hands up and say he’s fought a better fighter than me? I don’t think he can and that’s where we’re at right now.”
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for THE RING. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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