Jaime Munguia capitalized on his 11th-hour opportunity in May when he knocked out Sadam Ali to become a world champion at age 21.
Now it’s time for the hard-hitting Mexican to prove his ascension was no fluke.
Munguia will make his first WBO junior middleweight title defense Saturday against Liam Smith on an HBO-televised main event inside The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel. The doubleheader airs at 7 p.m., with the first bell scheduled for 4.
“Liam Smith is a tough fighter,” Munguia said. “We know what kind of style he has. He’s the type of fighter who will come forward and throw a lot of punches. He has an advantage because he’s been in big fights before.”
The last time Smith (26-1-1, 14 knockouts) fought in the U.S. was 2016, when he was knocked out in the ninth round by Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and lost his WBO title at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Alvarez vacated the belt, and it eventually made its way into Munguia’s possession. Smith, who is on a three-fight winning streak, now wants it back.
Smith, 29, was scheduled to face Ali two months ago, but an illness forced him to withdraw a few weeks before the fight. That’s when Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs) got the call.
“It’s good to be back fighting in the United States,” said Smith, a native of Liverpool, England. “The last time I was here I was treated very well. It was unfortunate to pull out of the Sadam Ali fight. But my loss was Jaime Munguia’s gain. He stepped in and won the title.”
Both fighters made weight Friday, each weighing 153.8 pounds.
Munguia was an unknown, inexperienced prospect from Tijuana, Mexico, before this spring. He was tabbed as Gennady Golovkin’s last-minute opponent after Alvarez withdrew from a May 5 rematch because of two failed drug tests.
The plan was for Munguia to fight for Golovkin’s middleweight belts at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, but the Nevada Athletic Commission didn’t approve Munguia as a viable opponent.
The commission’s reasoning made sense, as Munguia never had been in a middleweight fight or fought a ranked contender.
After Munguia crushed Ali, many wondered how the young fighter would have fared against the middleweight kingpin. Others don’t give Munguia much credit for defeating an undersized Ali, who is better suited as a welterweight.
Munguia will get a chance Saturday to turn more detractors into believers.
“Smith is the kind of fighter who will stand in front of you with a high guard and then suddenly throw a lot of punches,” Munguia said. “We both come forward, and we both throw a lot of punches, so there is a high possibility that this fight will end in a knockout.”
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel
Main event: Jaime Munguia vs. Liam Smith, WBO junior middleweight title
Co-main event: Alberto Machado vs. Rafael Mensah, WBA junior lightweight title
TV: 7 p.m. HBO
Tickets: Ticketmaster.com or The Joint box office