Fans and writers alike seemed to focus far more on the prospect of Jaime Munguia eventually facing Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and other top middleweights than on his actual title defense versus Takeshi Inoue.
The brutal slugfest that came of their DAZN main event in Houston showed why the most important fight of your career is always the next one on your schedule.
Munguia struggled just to get down to the 154-pound limit, but nowhere nearly as much as he did over the course of his eventual 12-round win Saturday evening at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
Final scores of 120-108 (twice) and 119-109 certainly didn’t serve justice to what took place in the ring. The wide scores aside, Munguia recognizes the level of hell he had to walk through in making the third defense of his super welterweight title.
“I think it was a great fight,” Munguia (32-0, 26KOs) said afterward. “Inoue was a great warrior, a very strong challenger but I was stronger and was able to get the win.”
As was the case in the unforgettable 12-round war between Xu Can and Jesus Rojas in the evening’s co-feature, action was quick out the gate and never relented.
Japan’s Inoue, fighting in the United States and anywhere outside of Asia for the first time in his career, immediately took the fight to the defending titlist, who seemed befuddled by his challenger’s early aggression. It wasn’t until round three when Mexico’s Munguia finally hit his stride—even if the judges saw otherwise.
A clash of heads left Inoue (13-1-1, 7KOs) with a cut over his left eye, which ultimately proved inconsequential. Far more damaging, however, was Munguia finding his offensive groove. Combinations to the body and then upstairs left Inoue briefly dazed but still with the wherewithal to ride out the storm and survive the round.
Munguia overestimated how badly his opponent was hurt, pressing the action in round four and looking to intensify his attack. Inoue turned the tide in a big way by the end of the round, scoring with an overhand right while Munguia was pinned against the ropes, a tactic which discouraged veteran trainer Roberto Alcazar who demanded between rounds to move the action to center ring.
In terms of ring action, Munguia appeared to pull away in the middle rounds, outworking Inoue and landing the much cleaner punches. Inoue’s refusal to back down won over an entirely new audience, also keeping the defending champion on his toes—though perhaps for good reason.
“I was surprised by him. He fought terrific,” Munguia admitted, though not without a disclaimer. “He also hit me a lot behind the head, but I was able to fight through it.”
Hardly known for his defensive prowess, Munguia used portions of rounds eight and nine to fight in reverse at times. The tactic wasn’t offered as means to retreat, but rather to keep Inoue out of his effective punching range long enough for Munguia to set up right hand shots from the outside.
There was no stopping the visiting challenger, however.
Inoue’s determination to bring the title back to Japan prompted a 10th round for the ages, one that will warrant year-end consideration. Just as Inoue appeared to have turned the tide, Munguia came roaring back, scoring with flush power shots upstairs to badly stun the
29-year old contender who somehow remained upright by round’s end.
It only made the championship rounds that much more fun to watch—even if the judges had long ago deemed the fight out of reach by that point.
Munguia had Inoue hurt on several occasions down the stretch, but could never seem to land that one finishing blow. It only provided his squat challenger with that much more confidence of one punch turning the fight back around, although the best he could manage in the final six minutes is matching the defending champion’s will.
The loss is Inoue’s first, although stateside platforms will undoubtedly want him back soon and often.
The same can be said of Munguia, who is seemingly incapable of a bad fight.
What he also seems incapable of at the moment, is posing a threat to any of the middleweights that many industry pundits attempted to pair him with prior to Saturday’s contest. In scoring the third defense of the title he claimed in a 4th round knockout of Sadam Ali last May, he remains among the best in a super welterweight division there for the taking—which is precisely the career direction he intends to take.
“There was no problem making weight. I have no problem fighting a few more times at 154, then moving up to 160,” Munguia insisted afterward.
Next up for the still unbeaten titlist is a likely mandatory defense versus Australia’s Dennis Hogan (28-1-1, 7KOs). If ordered to make that fight next, Golden Boy Promotions will look to push for a springtime defense, be it on or around the time of the May 4 Alvarez vs. Daniel Jacobs middleweight unification clash.