For a few rounds, the gray-haired Liam Smith was giving the young champion Jaime Munguia a boxing lesson.
After absorbing Munguia’s early barrage of power shots, Smith’s experience showed as he pushed back with perfectly timed combinations.
Munguia adjusted the only way he knows how — by punching harder.
Munguia proved he belonged in the conversation for best junior middleweight champion on Saturday after defeating Smith by unanimous decision (116-111, 118-110, 119-108) to retain his WBO belt before an announced crowd of 2,470 at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel.
“He’s a good fighter and probably answered a lot of questions for you,” said Smith of Munguia.
The tide changed in the fifth round when Munguia, 21, banged his gloves together and began to throw numerous power shots at Smith’s head and body as the crowd rose to its feet.
Smith, 29, fought back, but the Mexican’s power caught up to the Englishman. In the sixth round, Munguia dropped Smith with a massive left hook to take control of the bout.
Smith, who was a big underdog, refused to be knocked out. Munguia said before the fight he planned to knock out Smith faster than Saul “Canelo” Alvarez did against Smith in 2016. Alvarez knocked out Smith in the ninth round.
“He’s a tough opponent, and I was always looking for the knockout,” Munguia said, “but I was ready for 12 rounds. I needed the experience, and this was a good boxing lesson for me. This fight took the green out of me.”
Munguia burst onto the boxing scene in May when he took Sadam Ali’s title as a last-minute replacement.
Golden Boy Promotions president Eric Gomez said Munguia’s defense needs work, but he is excited about his future.
The hard-hitting Mexican said he’s ready for future unification bouts against Jermell Charlo and Jarrett Hurd.
In the co-main event, Alberto Machado defeated Raphael Mensah by unanimous decision to retain his WBA junior lightweight belt.
The three judges awarded each round to Machado and had identical scorecards of 120-107.
It appeared Machado was going to get an early knockout after dropping Mensah with a right hook in the first round.
Mensah, who hails from Ghana and is promoted by Don King, continued to battle despite possibly sustaining a broken jawt. The left side of Mensah’s face was swollen, and he was spitting blood throughout the bout.
“I think those rounds were better for me because I needed the experience,” said Machado after being asked why he couldn’t put Mensah away.
Machado’s stellar performance was in front of fellow Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto, a future Hall of Famer who was sitting ringside.
Usyk becomes undisputed champ
There was a lot of talk of Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev possibly delivering the best fight of 2018 in Saturday’s World Boxing Super Series finale in Moscow.
That didn’t happen, and it was clear who was the best cruiserweight in the division.
Usyk of Ukraine picked apart Russia’s Gassiev with his jab and hand speed to become the undisputed champion by unanimous decision (120-108, 119-109, 119-109).
Usyk, the No. 1 seed in the eight-man tournament, became the first fighter in the 200-pound division to unify all four major belts.
Gassiev, arguably the strongest puncher in the division, struggled to find space against Usyk’s length.