Being told he wasn't good enough turned out to be the best thing for Jaime Munguia

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Jaime Munguia, left, and Liam Smith pose for photographers during a news conference Thursday, July 19, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP)

LAS VEGAS – Two months after what would have been the biggest night of his life was snatched from him, boxer Jaime Munguia returns to the city where he was deemed unqualified as a conquering hero of sorts.

When Canelo Alvarez pulled out of his rematch that had been planned for May 5 with Gennady Golovkin because of a failed drug test, Golovkin still wanted to fight. Promoters proposed bringing Munguia in to fight Golovkin.

The Nevada Athletic Commission declined, determining that the 21-year-old Munguia wasn’t experienced enough at the sport’s highest level to take on someone with Golovkin’s talents.

“He’s a 21-year-old kid and yeah, I guess you could make the argument that Mike Tyson was even younger and he won the heavyweight title, but it’s not really the same thing,” said Bob Bennett, executive director of the Nevada commission. “We would have loved to have had a Golovkin fight on that date. But when you looked at the match closely, Golovkin not only had a lot of experience, his experience was against world-class guys for a long time. Munguia’s opponents were something like 268-166-23 at that point and I think Golovkin’s were 832-170-32.

“The kid is really a super welterweight and not a middleweight and I just didn’t think it was fair to him to put him in that kind of a fight at that point.”

Though it was a huge disappointment at the time, it turned out to be for the best. Liam Smith was forced to pull out of a May 12 fight with Sadam Ali for the WBO super welterweight bout and Munguia got the call.

He handled Ali easily and stopped him in the fourth, becoming a world champion in the process.

“I believe in myself, but I understand why they did what they did,” Munguia said Thursday following a news conference at the Hard Rock to promote the first defense of his WBO super welterweight title Saturday against Smith on HBO. “I don’t worry about that at all. I’m back and I’m a world champion and this fight is all that matters.”

Munguia is a potential star. He is 29-0 with 25 knockouts, though his competition was, as Bennett pointed out, questionable on the way up. But he’s 6 feet tall and rangy and is large for the division. He can punch, but he also has quick feet.

He’s reminiscent of a long-ago fighter who went on to win a world title and then became one of boxing’s elite champions. Oscar De La Hoya, who is promoting Saturday’s show, had a frame much like Munguia, and went on to a Hall of Fame career.

De La Hoya promoted the Ali-Munguia fight and had few expectations for Munguia.

“I saw him up on his toes moving around and firing that jab and the thing I said right away is, ‘That’s Robert Alcazar,’ ” De La Hoya said. “Robert was my first trainer and he did so much for me to teach me the game and how to be a pro, and I saw that he did the same thing for Munguia.”

Alcazar teamed up with Munguia before the Ali fight, so Saturday’s bout is the first time the pair have had a long time together.

Alcazar said Munguia is good and getting better, quickly.

“He’s got a good punch and he can hurt you if he catches you, and he has a good chin and he can take a shot,” Alcazar said. “But the thing I like about the kid is, he’s smart. He understands how to use that ring and he has great feet. His footwork is very good. When he’s in there, he just knows how to move and get himself into position.”

Munguia said he believes he’d have performed better than Vanes Martirosyan did against Golovkin. Martirosyan attempted to go toe-to-toe with Golovkin and wound up getting knocked out in the second round.

Munguia, though, isn’t of the mind to look back. There is a lot to look forward to and he’s not thinking of the day he was told he wasn’t good enough, even if it turned out to be the best thing for him.

“It was disappointing [to not get the Golovkin fight], but there was nothing I could do about it, so I understand it’s important to move on,” Munguia said. “I didn’t hesitate to say yes, but they felt I wasn’t ready so I forgot about that and I just got back to work.

“Things happened to fall my way and I took advantage of it and I just want to keep fighting and getting better.”

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