Paulie Malignaggi’s Picks: The Fight With Declining Canelo Looks To Have Come A Year Too Early For Improving Munguia

If it can’t be David Benavidez, Jaime Munguia’s a solid challenger to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on Saturday – he’s a top five super middleweight.

The all-Mexican element of Canelo-Munguia, in Las Vegas on Cinco de Mayo weekend, also gives it another element – not least because Mexican fans are the most vocal in this part of the world.

The timing of Saturday’s fight makes it interesting. Munguia, 27, has defensive flaws but he seems to be getting better and better, and the appointment of Freddie Roach as his trainer can only benefit him. It’s also increasingly being questioned whether Canelo is as good, and as hungry, as he once was. Munguia – who looks very hungry, because he can detect the potential superstardom within his reach – is edging closer to the top of the 168lbs division, but is he still easy enough to hit that Canelo can pick him off between the punches that Munguia throws? Canelo remains a quality fighter, but can he still avoid it becoming difficult in there against Munguia, and if he can’t, does he have the desire to win a difficult fight?

Some of the doubts surrounding Canelo and his hunger were created during his performance in defeat by Dmitrii Bivol at light heavyweight in May 2022. Once he realised Bivol was superior, he accepted defeat and fought the rest of the fight defensively, knowing that he wouldn’t win, and he relied on the judges’ scorecards – only on this occasion without the benefit of being able to deny Bivol what he deserved. Creating such a legacy also means that his ambition is also in question. At 33, and after 64 fights, he’s reached the staged where he’s getting injuries, which is something else that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Munguia is an aggressive fighter, and Roach is an offence-minded trainer. But Roach’s methods will be creating new punching angles that involve him side-stepping and throwing combinations that can lead to  more angles, combinations and opportunities, which in the context of a fighter like Munguia can mean a great offence also becoming a good defence. That emphasis on side-stepping and getting around to create a new punching angle can help a fighter protect himself defensively because it can lead to his opponent changing the target they’re looking at and being forced to adjust. Munguia sometimes throws five, six, seven punches – which is something Manny Pacquiao, Roach’s greatest success, used to like to do – so if his punches are being shortened enough to where Canelo’s not getting in between them he can ask serious questions of him. Canelo continues to punch with power, so if he gets in between them he’ll either slow Munguia down or make him hesitate to throw those combinations. They’ve had so little time together as fighter and trainer – this is their second fight – but Roach can only improve him.

Munguia looked good against John Ryder, who he stopped in nine rounds in January. But Ryder left a lot of himself in the ring in May 2023 against Canelo, and also made a lot of money that night – which won’t have helped his hunger when the fight with Munguia also started to become tough. When you’re hungry and still trying to achieve and make money you’re willing to make sacrifices, but when you already have it and you’re in a fight you can’t win – which is what the Munguia fight became for Ryder – you start to question how willing you are to take the punishment going the distance would involve. Ryder fought to preserve his value when he went 12 rounds against Canelo – which I once did against Miguel Cotto in 2006 – when he also would have hoped he got lucky enough to land a knockout punch. But in the end the risk becomes greater than the reward; by the time Ryder fought Munguia it became an easier decision for him, which is why he deserves credit for retiring when he did. When that was me against Sam Eggington in 2017, and I didn’t get up, I similarly knew it was time for me to retire. All of which makes comparisons between their performances against Ryder less relevant than they might have seemed.

I expect Munguia to be aggressive and to set a high pace against Canelo, who it’s little secret doesn’t like a high pace. I’m curious about how capable Munguia is of shortening his punches and keeping his punches tight, and also how capable he is of executing Roach’s instructions. If he’s punching too wide or leaving himself too open after finishing his combinations, Canelo will take advantage of that, because Canelo retains his power and sense of timing. It’s a question of whether Munguia can overwhelm Canelo or Canelo can slow Munguia down; if it’s proves the former, it then becomes a question of how much of a fight Canelo is willing to have.

Munguia still looks a year of improvement – and a year of Canelo declining – short of winning a fight between them, which is partly why I believe he was selected as Canelo’s opponent on Saturday. It might be close on the scorecards, but I expect Canelo to win.