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Canelo Alvarez-Jaime Munguia: The Week That Was

Published:

Tuesday, April 30

Word on the ground in Las Vegas is that Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s next opponent will be Edgar Berlanga.

On Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena, Alvarez will defend his undisputed super middleweight title against Jaime Munguia, and for all that theirs is an all-Mexican fight on the occasion of Cinco de Mayo weekend, Munguia is widely considered a less appealing opponent than would be David Benavidez.

There is also little question Berlanga would prove a considerably less popular opponent than Munguia. The suggestion, increasingly, is that he will be installed as Alvarez’s mandatory challenger by the WBA, and that on this occasion a fighter who has long been more influential and powerful than any of the sanctioning bodies will agree to their request, forcing the cynics who follow his career to question if he is doing so simply because of the justification it presents him with to enter so obviously a winnable fight.

The occasion of Cinco de Mayo was regardless mentioned throughout the so-called “grand arrivals” at Vegas’ MGM Grand. BoxingScene was in Alvarez’s home city of Guadalajara when he fought John Ryder on the same weekend in 2023, and therefore learned how little it actually means to Mexicans and the extent to which it serves as a promotional tool for those involved in boxing.

The Cinco de Mayo fight date used to belong to the far-from-Mexican Floyd Mayweather Jr. Perhaps that is why Leonard Ellerbe attended the grand arrivals and made himself available to speak. Before Mayweather, it used to be Oscar De La Hoya’s. Why De La Hoya, as Munguia’s co-promoter, attended and refused to speak remains unclear.

None other than Freddie Roach was De La Hoya’s trainer the night he fought and lost to Mayweather in 2007, after which De La Hoya’s determination to blame him for defeat made their relationship increasingly tense. Roach is training Munguia for their second fight together – later on Tuesday BoxingScene was told he is relishing training Munguia more than any other fighter since Manny Pacquiao, who forced De La Hoya’s retirement in 2008 – but when he and De La Hoya were on stage together at the lobby of the MGM Grand they were relaxed in each other’s company.

Much can change before Friday’s weigh-in, but when Munguia appeared on stage – wearing a Wild Card Boxing-branded T-shirt – he looked healthy, and ready to fight. It seemed strange that he was then asked about the game plan Dmitry Bivol used to defeat Alvarez in May 2022 – it’s difficult to think of an opponent Munguia is less like.

When Alvarez made his entrance, he was asked about the sign being held by a fan in support of Benavidez. BoxingScene was also in Vegas when Alvarez fought Amir Khan in May 2016 – a time when there existed an increasing demand for him to fight Gennady Golovkin. He, inevitably, was repeatedly asked about Golovkin that week, and when he answered spoke with the air of someone ready and willing to fight the opponent he was being asked about. He was equally as convincing when he was inevitably asked about Benavidez on Tuesday afternoon – it might even be that if and when he defeats Berlanga, Alvarez-Benavidez will follow.

If Gervonta Davis-Ryan Garcia proved the biggest fight of 2023, then on Wednesday of fight week, Saul Alvarez-Jaime Munguia is starting to feel bigger.

BoxingScene was in Las Vegas to cover Davis-Garcia and its build-up and therefore monitored how it evolved, but partly on account of Davis’ refusal to honor his media obligations, what unfolded was a steadier build.

Little over one year on, on Wednesday the media centre at the MGM Grand was, by contrast, full as a consequence of the many in Sin City to cover the world’s highest-profile fighter’s latest fight. That there were also supporters of both fighters present also created the look and feel of a Vegas fight week on the eve of the fight.

None of which is to suggest that it will in any way surpass, at least in a commercial context, Davis-Garcia, which not only outperformed the fight between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. to be the biggest of 2023, but generated one of the biggest gates in Nevada’s perhaps unrivaled history. It is perhaps also significant that so many of the media and supporters present are Mexican; there is no guarantee that their influence will contribute towards making Saturday’s a particularly big Alvarez fight.

On Wednesday, the animosity between the undisputed super middleweight champion and his former promoter Oscar De La Hoya, who remains Munguia’s co-promoter, overshadowed the matchup between Alvarez and Munguia. De La Hoya has long struggled to resist criticizing those he dislikes but there long appears to have been a special place in his thoughts for Alvarez, who has succeeded him not only as the world’s leading fighter, but in so regularly fighting on Cinco de Mayo weekend. De La Hoya and Alvarez have had a strained relationship since Alvarez left Golden Boy Promotions for Matchroom, whose figurehead Eddie Hearn is another De La Hoya transparently dislikes.

Rivalries sell, but the ill feeling between De La Hoya and Alvarez is similar to that that existed between Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, and that between De La Hoya, and Fernando Vargas, Ricardo Mayorga and Floyd Mayweather Jr., when he was in similar territory to that Alvarez occupies in 2024. It wasn’t that long ago that De La Hoya and Garcia, his leading fighter, were taking aim at each other, but De La Hoya rarely presented as someone who disliked Garcia like he does Alvarez, whose attention he finally truly drew when, from the top table, De La Hoya swore.

Alvarez was wearing sunglasses in the MGM Grand’s poorly lit ballroom – one that doesn’t have any natural sunlight – and remained expressionless while De La Hoya spoke, until De La Hoya briefly looked at the champion, sat immediately to his right, and said “put some f****** respect on [my name].” When he did so Alvarez immediately looked in his direction, his body language changed, and he eventually followed De La Hoya across the stage where he was stopped by the fight’s co-promoter Tom Brown. De La Hoya, whether he had intended to or not, had engaged the fighter in “Canelo” Alvarez. Before Alvarez fought and defeated Caleb Plant in 2021, he punched Plant at one of their face-offs. De La Hoya hadn’t simply been attempting to promote Saturday’s fight; the occasion is even more personal than was perhaps anticipated, and risked becoming considerably worse.

Reports of Garcia testing positive for performance enhancing drugs on the day of and the day before his fight with Devin Haney were therefore the last thing the promoter and his promotional organization needed. Golden Boy swiftly and professionally issued a statement to address those reports; Garcia’s victory over Haney had been on course to remain one of the stories of 2024; three days before the biggest fight of Munguia’s career, the challenger’s and Garcia’s promoters will struggle to prevent Garcia remaining the story of the week.

Thursday, May 2

Even the fighters sat at the top table of Thursday’s undercard press conference looked bored by what each of them was saying. Perhaps they were attempting to keep a straight face at the description of Mario Barrios-Fabian Andres Maidana as the “co-main event.”

In 2024, when there is a fight involving Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, there isn’t a co-main event. There is the main event that’s sold on his status as the undisputed super middleweight champion and the world’s highest-profile fighter, there’s some attention paid – as a consequence – to his opponent, and then there’s the undercard, no matter how strong.

The appeal that exists in Brandon Figueroa-Jessie Magdaleno and Eimantas Stanionis-Gabriel Maestre may be considerable, but in Las Vegas, ahead of the occasion of Cinco de Mayo weekend, Alvarez-Jaime Munguia is the only widely recognized fight in town.

Magdaleno made no desire to hide that he was looking at his phone while he was sat the the same top table. His opponent, Figueroa, similarly didn’t seem on message when he said: “There’s not a lot of action-packed fighters nowadays. That’s one of the reasons why boxing is not really interesting no more. A lot of people are looking somewhere else. …”

Some much-needed star power was regardless injected into the media center at The MGM Grand when Alvarez arrived, shortly after the departure of Munguia, for his final round of interviews. Representatives of Golden Boy Promotions were with Munguia, but Oscar De La Hoya, presumably in an attempt to avoid questions related to Ryan Garcia’s reported failed drug test, was not among them.

After Alvarez, De La Hoya is the figure involved in Saturday’s promotion most capable of drawing to it the attention that would benefit all concerned, but after De La Hoya – more so than any other fighter; perhaps even Munguia – it is his one-time trainer Freddie Roach.

Roach is working with Munguia for their second fight together. His struggles with Parkinson’s disease have contributed to him being less mobile than he once was, but his reputation has helped to enhance Munguia’s profile. Perhaps more relevantly, those who spoke to him on Thursday will have recognized that not only does he retain the appreciation for the sport that defines him and that he showed so often at the height of his success with Manny Pacquiao, but that he also retains all of the same passion.

“[Alvarez] has very common combinations,” the 64-year-old Roach told BoxingScene. “He’ll throw a left hook to the body; a left hook to the head. Every time. Every time you get one, you get two. If he lands the one to the head I’m gonna kill my guy.”

Roach also briefly spoke about time spent in Manchester with Amir Khan, and asked if Khan is still living in Dubai. Before Munguia’s victory in January over John Ryder little thought was being given to him being Alvarez’s next opponent. His association with the great Roach may have helped him earn the biggest fight of his career; it also remains possible that Roach will oversee one last, seismic win.

Friday, May 3

Before Shakur Stevenson’s victory in November over Edwin de los Santos, also at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, BoxingScene spoke to a representative of Top Rank, who recognized the extent to which they were having to vie for attention with that weekend’s Formula One Grand Prix. 

Six months on, perhaps helped by the occasion of Cinco de Mayo weekend, marketing material promoting the undisputed super-middleweight title fight between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Jaime Munguia is near-impossible to avoid. At Friday’s ceremonial weigh-in for the Premier Boxing Champions promotion, in the sunshine outside of the T-Mobile Arena, as well as filling the designated areas, Mexican fight fans had gathered in the car park of the New York, New York casino to watch from higher ground.

When watching “The Heartbreaker” Brandon Figueroa weigh-in and then lift in each hand drinks in which he has a commercial interest, it was tempting – while considering his far-from-professional-fighter’s appearance and the fact that he has a role in the Amazon Prime Video film “Find Me” – to consider what is increasingly referred to as his crossover appeal.

When the equally well-groomed Alvarez, who has also appeared on the silver screen, arrived shortly afterwards wearing sunglasses and a Dolce & Gabbana-branded tracksuit, he oozed a superstar’s qualities to such an extent that an almost immediate reminder was provided of those rare, often indefinable, traits only the most revered of athletes possess.

Oscar De La Hoya once – and in many ways continues to – possess so many of those qualities. So, too, does his leading fighter Ryan Garcia. That De La Hoya arrived on Friday wearing a T-shirt that read “Eat More Meat” was interpreted as an insult aimed at Alvarez – with whom he so dramatically clashed at Wednesday’s final press conference – given Alvarez had previously blamed his two positive tests for the banned substance clenbuterol on eating contaminated meat. Before news had broken of Garcia testing positive for ostarine his perceived insult may have carried more authority (De La Hoya later learned Shane Mosley had used performance-enhancing drugs before their fight in 2003; he also, unlike Garcia ahead of the fight with Devin Haney, made weight when it was to his detriment, such as against Manny Pacquiao in 2008). 

Given that he fulfilled his media obligations early on Friday morning when there were far fewer media professionals present – presumably in an attempt to avoid having to answer inconvenient questions – the T-shirt he wore on Friday afternoon made him appear tone-deaf.

Saturday, May 4

It’s Gervonta Davis’ universe and everyone else is just living in it.

That, again, was the conclusion it was tempting to draw in Las Vegas on the day of Saul Alvarez-Jaime Munguia, when Davis was an hour late to the press conference being staged to promote his fight, on June 15, with Frank Martin, and David Benavidez-Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

When he arrived, perhaps the most natural-born of all of the world’s active fighters immediately confronted Martin – and less through a desire to promote their fight, but because it is what comes naturally to him. If he wasn’t being paid millions to demonstrate his talents as one of the world’s finest fighters, Davis, no doubt, would be fighting on the streets of Baltimore, and he is already relishing the prospect of attempting to get into Martin’s head and the considerable test Martin will provide on fight night, because both are what Davis’ nature demands.

When they posed in front of the top table the often-menacing Davis very deliberately invaded Martin’s personal space. When they made their way behind it to their seats Davis again made sure that they came face to face and then slapped away Martin’s hand. “It’s time,” he said, repeatedly – not that Martin seemed excessively troubled. “It’s gon’ get real.”

Davis-Martin will be the 100th main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena – which, to the mind of BoxingScene, is a superior venue to the T-Mobile Arena, largely on account of the extent to which the walls can still speak of unforgettable nights involving Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and more. When Davis fought there in 2015, when he stopped Recky Dulay inside a round, he was far from having established himself as one of the world’s leading fighters. The extent to which his growing profile is moving his closer to the likes of Tyson, Mayweather and others makes it seem fitting that he will follow in their footsteps by fighting there in the main event.

When they posed again towards the conclusion of Saturday’s press conference, Davis, as naturally as he did everything else, started shadowboxing and reminded Martin, “You don’t like body shots; you from the suburbs.” The confidence similarly oozing from his trainer Calvin Ford added to the element of intimidation Martin was being forced to resist. 

Later that evening, at the T-Mobile Arena, Jessie Magdaleno had already been announced as “Diego” when Davis appeared on the big screen in the pre-fight dressing room of none other than “Canelo” Alvarez. The so-called title of “the face of boxing” has become one of the most common, and frankly strange, brags of the modern era for a culture in which bragging is second nature, but if Alvarez succeeded Mayweather in that position, then while he posed alongside him Davis – loudly cheered by the largely Mexican 17,492 crowd present – seemed the likeliest to be the next. 

Davis, similarly, drew the attention of the cameras when he was ringside during the main event, when at one point he started dancing to the music being played like he hadn’t a care in the world. Alvarez showed how much he still has to offer at the highest level during the course of 12 largely one-sided rounds against Munguia, but it is Davis – with potential rivalries against fighters like Devin Haney and Shakur Stevenson – who seems almost certain to have the greater impact on his sport over the course of the coming years.

Before he left the T-Mobile Arena, Alvarez responded, when asked if he had spoken to Oscar De La Hoya since their confrontation at Wednesday’s press conference, “No, I don’t need to speak to him.” He also confirmed that he had repeatedly stood between rounds against Munguia because “I felt good.”

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