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Preview: Jaime Munguia makes the middleweight move against Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan

Jaime Munguia heads up in weight this Saturday to get 2020 kicked off against the colorful Irish battler.

Ron Cortes-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

With boxing fans and pundits, things change fast as far as the perceptions of fighters are concerned, particularly the young guns. And they should, really. Every fight, every matchup can reveal something new.

We throw around the word “exposed” a lot, but it’s not always so dramatic or meant to be a harsh dismissal; “exposed” can simply mean we’ve learned what flaws a fighter has, as they all have flaws in the ring, many times not revealed until they’ve faced some better competition, or simply a trickier style they don’t match up so well against as they had with previous opponents.

2019 was the year where Jaime Munguia got exposed, or if you find that language too aggressive, it’s at the very least we learned something more about the young fighter from Tijuana.

Munguia, who turned 23 in October, burst onto the scene in 2018, first as a willing opponent for Gennadiy Golovkin when Canelo Alvarez had to bow out of their Cinco de Mayo rematch after some drug test failures. He didn’t get that fight, but it put his name out there for more people, and he wound up in a headline attraction the following Saturday on HBO, challenging Sadam Ali for the WBO 154-pound title in Verona, New York.

Munguia mauled Ali, absolutely destroyed him. Ali, who had beaten and retired Miguel Cotto just five months earlier, was really a natural welterweight who had moved up for the opportunity to face a legend like Cotto, and took full advantage. But with a belt to defend, he had to get in against a legitimate junior middleweight, a big one, and it didn’t go well. Munguia put Ali down twice in the first round and once each in the second and fourth, where the fight ended at 1:02, crowning a new young titleholder and putting Munguia’s name on the map for sure.

Boxing being boxing, being “world champion” doesn’t always mean you’ve finished your prospect days, either. When a young fighter like Munguia — or for an even more recent example, Emanuel Navarrette — wins a title ahead of schedule, they often wind up facing soft challengers for a while, which sanctioning bodies can always help with because none of the big four have any shortage of unqualified but ranked contenders.

Jaime Munguia v Liam Smith Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Munguia did start nicely, though, taking on mandatory challenger Liam Smith, a former titleholder and a rock solid contender, just two months after crushing Ali. Smith showed us that Munguia wasn’t just going to waltz right through everybody, and Munguia proved he could go a tougher 12, winning a decision he deserved.

After rather soft defenses over Brandon Cook and Takeshi Inoue, Munguia was matched with another mandatory challenger, the Irishman-based-in-Australia, Dennis Hogan. Hogan figured to be another pretty light touch, and Munguia was going home to Mexico for his first fight in his native country since the breakthrough. Hogan’s résumé had nothing of any real concern.

But on April 13 of last year, Hogan gave Munguia fits for 12 rounds. He proved hard for the one-speed Munguia to pin down, using his feet and skills to pepper Munguia with enough shots that it wasn’t hard at all to make the argument that he deserved the win.

The judges came back with a majority decision for Munguia, and the young star survived to defend his title another day, albeit with a lot of controversy. Hogan wanted a rematch, but the WBO didn’t grant one, and Munguia’s team certainly weren’t going to rush into giving that guy another chance to make him look bad.

As for the team, Munguia did a bit of a reboot after that fight, admitting there was serious work to do by switching his head trainer to Erik Morales, a great fighter but a novice in the corner, going into a September bout with Patrick Allotey. Ghana’s Allotey was much more tailor-made for Munguia to look good against, and he did his job, getting stopped in the fourth round, with his interest in mixing it up with Munguia waning very quickly.

There had been speculation for months that Munguia (34-0, 27 KO) was ready to move up to 160, and following the win over Allotey, the decision was finally made to do that. He eventually vacated his WBO belt at 154, and on Saturday at San Antonio’s Alamodome, he tests the waters as a middleweight.

Boxing from Castlebar Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan is a colorful character in today’s boxing world. The 35-year-old from Cork, Ireland, can be relied on to come out and give it an honest shot no matter the opponent, no matter how overmatched he’s expected to be.

O’Sullivan turned pro in 2008 in his hometown, and has fought in Ireland and the UK and the US and Canada since then, traveling around for a scrap wherever he can get one. He’s ambitious in spirit but limited in ability, sporting a trademark handlebar moustache and delivering the sort of interviews that garner headlines even without being considered a top contender at any point in his career.

And whatever else you can say about him, he’s pretty fun to watch. You may find him either endearing or a little annoying otherwise, but he comes to fight.

“Spike” doesn’t have much by way of notable wins, being honest, his best probably coming in Dec. 2017, when he knocked out former prospect Antoine Douglas in the seventh round in Laval, Quebec.

But his true biggest fights have all been losing efforts. In 2013, he was lined up to test unbeaten young Billy Joe Saunders at Wembley Arena, and dropped a shutout-type decision over 12 rounds. Saunders has gone on to win belts at 160 and 168, of course. In 2015, O’Sullivan was stopped after seven rounds of one-sided action against Chris Eubank Jr. And in 2018, the Irishman talked a great game heading into a bout with middleweight puncher David Lemieux, saying Lemieux was a one-trick pony. It turned out to be a good trick, though, as Lemieux knocked him out in 2:44.

Munguia will be the heavy favorite here — he’s younger, he hasn’t officially lost a fight yet, the money’s behind him, the hype is behind him. On paper, O’Sullivan is the sort of middling, willing foe that Munguia should handle in style.

But O’Sullivan can’t be totally counted out in this one. Jaime doesn’t have the skills of Saunders, the one-punch thunder of Lemieux, or the athleticism of Eubank. While Munguia can certainly thump, he’s better at grinding down opponents who have any durability. O’Sullivan’s never been afraid to trade, and Munguia is there to be hit. On paper, O’Sullivan (30-3, 21 KO) has the puncher’s chance because of the style matchup.

For a fight where few if any are going to pick any way other than with the favorite, there’s some intrigue in this matchup. It should be good sporting entertainment, however it goes or however long it lasts, and it’ll be interesting to see if Munguia looks stronger not cutting those last six pounds he’s had to on the scales before, especially because he’s still a young guy and may well have grown out of comfortably making 154 over the last few fights.

We’ll have more on Munguia-O’Sullivan this week, including our staff picks on Friday and live coverage on Saturday! Stick with us!

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