Jaime Munguia, unknown three months ago, impresses in victory over Liam Smith

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Jaime Munguia (L) lands a hook on Liam Smith during their WBO super welterweight title fight Saturday at the Hard Rock. (John Locher/Associated Press)

LAS VEGAS – Three months ago, Jaime Munguia was largely unknown by the boxing public, and so lightly regarded that he wasn’t approved as an opponent for middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin.

Two fights and two world title victories later, the 21-year-old Mexican has made a name for himself as one of the most entertaining fighters in the sport.

Munguia won a wide unanimous decision over Liam “Beefy” Smith Saturday before a loud crowd of 2,470 at the Hard Rock, retaining the WBO super welterweight title by scores of 116-111, 119-110 and 119-108. Yahoo Sports scored it 119-108.

It was an entertaining back-and-forth bout, in which Munguia showed plenty of offensive skills. His defense is something he’ll need to work on to compete with the elite at super welterweight, particularly WBA champion Jarret Hurd and WBC champ Jermell Charlo, but anyone who watched him batter Smith Saturday undoubtedly will want to see him again.

He dropped Smith in the sixth with a beautiful counter left, and made a solid commitment to the body throughout. His body shots came in multiples, and he hurt Smith with them on several occasions.

Smith’s only previous loss was in a title bout with Canelo Alvarez, when he was stopped in nine. He declined to compare Munguia to Alvarez, but had nothing but good things to say about him.

“He’s a good fighter and he answered a lot of questions,” Smith said of Munguia.

Munguia’s defense is his offense, and he’ll never be compared to a Floyd Mayweather defensively. Smith landed plenty, many of which were hard shots, and that’s something Munguia can’t do as he moves up in quality of opposition.

Former world champion Roy Jones, who called the fight for HBO, was impressed by Munguia but dismissed any comparisons to promoter Oscar De La Hoya.

“I’m impressed by Munguia because of his discipline and because of his age,” Jones told Yahoo Sports. “I just hope he doesn’t make the same fight Canelo made by fighting the big fight too early. I think (Alvarez) was 21 when he fought Floyd, and that was way too early and he didn’t know how to deal with that.

“This kid has some ability, and if he keeps taking smart fights like that one and continues to learn, he has the possibility he can be great. But if he goes too fast, I don’t think he’ll get to be that exceptional fighter he can be.”

Munguia was a late replacement for Smith in May in a bout against Sadam Ali for the title. Ali, who is primarily a welterweight, couldn’t keep Munguia off of him and was bulldozed before being stopped in the fourth. Munguia got that bout only when the Nevada Athletic Commission turned him down as a potential opponent for Golovkin for the middleweight title on May 5 after Alvarez pulled out because of failed drug tests.

He proved his worth, though, in the last two bouts, and has a promising future. Smith fought hard and engaged with Munguia, forcing Munguia to compete. That can only help Munguia.

Smith’s only hope as the 12th round opened was to score the knockout, which Munguia surely knew. Munguia, though, attacked anyway and landed a number of big shots on Smith.

It was a risky strategy given the scorecard, but it’s the type of strategy that is bound to make him a popular fighter.

“I’m a little green, but this experience will help me for the next rival,” Munguia said.

Golden Boy president Eric Gomez noted that Munguia has to improve his defense, but liked what he saw.

“He’s very young and he’s learning,” Gomez said. “He needs to work on his head movement a bit, but that was a perfect fight for him. This is going to make him better.”

If he continues to develop, he’ll have a a long and entertaining career in front of him. He’s got the offensive skills as well as the desire to entertain.

“I’m always looking for the knockout,” Munguia said. “I put my heart into it like a true Mexican.”

There are some killers, notably Hurd and Charlo, in his class, and he has a long way to go to be considered anywhere near their level.

It was, though, a very good first step.

“If he does things the right way, you’re going to see him winning a lot of fights and doing a lot of good things,” Jones said. “He’s has a chance to be special.”