Jaime Munguia is the WBO junior middleweight champion. But five months ago, he was denied an opportunity to challenge unified middleweight world titleholder Gennady Golovkin.
When the rematch between unified middleweight world champion Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, originally scheduled for May 5 in Las Vegas, was canceled following Alvarez's two failed drug tests, Golovkin's team went to work trying to find a replacement opponent so Golovkin could still fight on that date. Munguia was the opponent Team Golovkin targeted, but when he was brought up to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, executive director Bob Bennett would not approve him due to his inexperience.
Ultimately, Golovkin faced, and destroyed, junior middleweight Vanes Martirosyan in the second round.
While Munguia kept training, junior middleweight world titlist Sadam Ali had been due to make his first defense against mandatory challenger and former titlist Liam "Beefy" Smith on May 12, but when Smith had to withdraw due to illness, suddenly Ali needed an opponent on short notice. He picked Munguia.
Munguia defeated Ali to win the title and made one defense against Smith in July.
Now Munguia has his eyes on Alvarez -- if Canelo defeats Golovkin on Sept. 15. It has been a long but satisfying journey ...
For great boxers who become legends, a common path exists. Over the course of a career, they dreamed big, had faith, and took the risks to show the fans and critics that they are champions. My name is Jaime Munguia, and my day-to-day life as a boxer is defined by those risks. I have become the youngest current champion to represent Mexico with my WBO junior middleweight title, but I'll want my name to be mentioned among the best in the world. My eyes are set on facing the current world champions.
When the call came to potentially face Gennady Golovkin as a last-minute replacement, one could hear the boxing world immediately ask itself, "Who is Jaime Munguia?" Critics who had not heard of me before questioned why Golovkin's team would even consider me and acted as if I was a lamb being served up for slaughter. We will never know what would have happened if the NSAC [Nevada State Athletic Commission] would have approved the fight, but there is one thing I would like to humbly let the boxing world know: I didn't just come into the boxing world out of nowhere. I've dedicated my entire life to this sport, and I will accomplish my goal in facing the best, including Canelo Alvarez.
My boxing story begins in a tiny gym in the working-class neighborhoods of Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. I inherited a passion for the sweet science of the sport from my father. While I never got to witness his short career as a professional, my father's discipline, dedication and hard work were drilled into my daily routine. It's what took me to Mexico's national championships and helped me secure gold and bronze medals. As a 16-year-old, I was too young to go to the London 2012 Olympic Games and too hungry to wait four years for the next Olympics. Instead, I decided to turn pro.
The first professional fight of my career was in July 2013. The other fighter in ring was a local boxer from Tijuana, and I knocked him out in the second round. From that moment on, I aspired toward making boxing a full-time career. Fast forward four years to Dec. 9, 2017, and I accomplished the dream of every Mexican-born fighter: a fight in the United States. Not just any fight -- a fight on an HBO Latino undercard in Las Vegas. I properly introduced myself to a new, American audience with a second-round knockout against Paul Valenzuela Jr. It was my seventh fight in 2017, six of which ended in knockout victories.
Two fights later in Tijuana, and then the rumors started circling around the boxing community: Gennady Golovkin wanted me for the May 5 fight. I was disappointed to hear commissioner Bob Bennett say I lacked the boxing pedigree to go head-to-head with Golovkin, as my knockout ratio was more than 80 percent and I had sparred against the likes of Antonio Margarito, Jose Uzcategui and Carlos Ocampo. Though I was denied the fight with Golovkin, I was catapulted into the light. Perhaps it was destiny.
When my promoter, Zanfer, called two weeks later with the proposal from Golden Boy Promotions to replace [Liam] Smith in a fight against [Sadam] Ali for his WBO title, I didn't hesitate for one minute to say yes. I was motivated to show people that I belong in the ring with Golovkin and that I was going to do a better job than [Vanes] Martirosyan with my fight against Ali. That night, in only my second fight in the United States as a professional, I became the youngest world champion to represent Mexico. My life changed in an instant, and criticism began to come in rapidly. Critics said that my victory proved nothing, that I only defeated Ali because of my large physical advantages. I only have one thing to say about this: I was presented with an opportunity, and if you were to ask any fighter, they would have done the same.
Then came the WBO-mandated fight against Smith. I welcomed the opportunity as it was the perfect chance to prove that the fight with Sadam wasn't a fluke or caused by sheer luck. The fight doubled as an opportunity to start preparing to take on the ultimate rival: Canelo Alvarez. Fighting Liam would test how I would stand against Canelo, seeing as that Canelo handed Smith his only career loss. Though the fight against Smith showed some of my vulnerabilities, I still walked out of that fight a world champion and proved to the doubters that I was destined to be one of Mexico's legendary fighters.
The dream of facing Canelo on a blockbuster card remains on the back of my mind while I train for my new opponent Brandon Cook as part of the undercard for Canelo vs. GGG II.
As a Mexican, there is an inherent pride that comes from being known as a fighter who does not fear or back down from taking on the best in the sport. It is what made Canelo and Golovkin meet in the ring and it'll be what puts Canelo and me face-to-face in the not-too-distant future. Or maybe, in my desire to face the best, I could face Golovkin if he beats Canelo.
With the respective fighters, the plan would be the same: remain aggressive. I would have to apply pressure and control the fight from the first round with either opponent. With Canelo being a strong and young boxer, I would have to work on cutting the ring and avoiding his overhand right. If I had to face Gennady, my goal would be to apply pressure consistently, use my distance and especially avoid the left hook.
When I think about how I'm training to eventually be victorious over Canelo or Golovkin, I realize that I'm on the right track. I added Roberto Alcazar, former coach of Oscar De La Hoya, to my team, and I have been perfecting my intelligence inside the ring and capitalizing on the power of my punches. I have the wisdom of a team that includes my dad, Jaime Munguia, Guadalupe "Chivo" Martínez and Noe Alvarez, who have always supported me. I often dream of the combinations I could use, from my hook to the liver to my agility in the ring. I have the tools to beat Canelo, Golovkin or any quality opponent, and with time and patience, I know I will get to the point where I can and will be victorious over them.
I want to make history. I want to be a world champion in different divisions and will defend, fight and go up against whoever is considered the best. But I want to fight Canelo. There is no bad blood -- it's just competition. Canelo is the best current Mexican boxer, and a fight between us would mark my life and my career.
My dream is to etch my name among the best Mexican boxers, and it will be achieved.
Information from ESPN senior boxing writer Dan Rafael was used in this story.