Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re pretty easy. You get what I’m saying: loose. But consider it a compliment. You’re always down to party. You’re low-maintenance. Agreeable. Even in this modern environment of seemingly endless entertainment options, your viewing standards for a fight are admirably … squishy. When you, the consummate boxing fan, decide whether to spend your hard-earned consumer dollars and precious viewing hours on a fight, the mental checklist looks something like this:
1. Does this contest feature at least four arms and four legs between the two combatants? If not, will bionic prosthetics be involved?
2. Is the matchup televised or aired by a cost-associated app or streaming service? If not, can the fight feed be accessed via other methods? (Example: a Weber charcoal grate covered in tin foil and jerry-rigged to the roof of your cousin’s trailer.)
3. Are both fighters sanctioned by a state-approved commission? Or, bare minimum, will your neighborhood association call the cops on the guy hawking tickets in your driveway — the one whose HP DeskJet-printed business cards describe him as president and CEO of the Backyard Brawlz Series, Upper Florida Panhandle Region?
The mental gymnastics of maintaining a consistent and simultaneous relationship with boxing and one’s own conscience require a flexibility that would make Simone Biles blush. We’re told, often, that this enterprise must be accepted as both sport and entertainment. Left conveniently unsaid is which comes first. The only engagements in the sport more common than blatant mismatches are thinly veiled mismatches — the kind by which, let’s say, a fading veteran with a respectable but thoughtfully curated record is fed to a coddled but unproven A-sider, then dressed up as a clash of titans. I’d love to say that the hypocrisy of boxing viewers goes only so far, that we’d watch two whiskey-filled dock workers throw haymakers until somebody lands in the drink but wouldn’t dare accept being hoodwinked into settling for a lopsided, chickenshit matchup between pros. It appears, however, that our hypocrisy knows no bounds.
Which is how on Saturday night we wound up watching — and you know you watched, you floozy — Jaime Munguia make his middleweight debut against Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan at the Alamodome in San Antonio. At first glance, this (anti)social transaction doesn’t rank as highway robbery. Since taking Sadam Ali’s junior middleweight belt and successfully defending it against Liam Smith, the nominally and nebulously talented Munguia (34-0, 28 KOs) has been involved exclusively in steaming heaps of fights. His defense had been a scandalous rumor, and at 23, he seemed yet to have learned how to actually, y’know … fight. And, of course, the wild card: Munguia was stepping up in weight. Meanwhile, O’Sullivan — known best for Sex Wax-ing his ‘stache and, in a distant second, dropping his biggest fights to Billy Joe Saunders, Chris Eubank Jr. and David Lemieux — would be an opponent who had at least faced something resembling top competition. O’Sullivan, 35, it could be reasonably assumed, would also be the cagier fighter in a matchup that was more likely than previous Munguia fights to go the distance and to thus fully test the Mexican’s strategy, patience and fortitude.
And if you believe that, Oscar De La Hoya has some oceanfront property along San Antonio’s River Walk he’d love to sell you.
Notwithstanding a handful of mildly dramatic moments and the amount of time it took Munguia to finish his work, Saturday’s result held close to form for anyone with eyes to see and enough interest to look past the promotional pig lipstick. It wasn’t that Munguia’s 11th-round stoppage of O’Sullivan wasn’t good, unclean boxing fun — tactics, or something like them, were deployed; heavy blows were exchanged. It’s just that the event had no business being swallowed, let alone served, as the main course on a DAZN card.
In the ring, the size differential between the fighters was instantly clear — and the bigger man wasn’t the one you would’ve expected. Munguia, despite making the six-pound leap to the middleweight division, dwarfed O’Sullivan as they approached referee Mark Calo-oy to wrap the pre-fight formalities at center ring. At least two inches taller than O’Sullivan, Munguia also appeared to be the more stronger fighter. If nothing else, he seemed a damn sight more robust than he had been in recent fights, when Munguia practically had to sell off several less-vital organs to make the 154-pound limit.
The action played out roughly as anticipated. With Munguia slinging both hands like dual maces, O’Sullivan, the Irishman, stood a bit too upright and tried (usually vainly) to stick his opponent with jabs or random counter right hands through the incoming fire. Some notable exceptions: Munguia showed more patience and a rudimentary, if not instinctive, commitment to improving his defense. O’Sullivan, strangely, was the aggressor in pressing forward, and Munguia, despite landing harder and more often from start to finish, mostly obliged him. The kicker was that O’Sullivan rarely fully closed distance, where he enjoyed most of his limited success against the powerful, long-armed Munguia. Instead, Spike just sort of lingered at the end of his opponent’s punch range and took his slow-building beating.
O’Sullivan’s best sustained stretch came in the early-middle of the fight, when he authored perhaps the closest thing to a round in his favor (the 4th), knocked out Munguia’s mouthpiece in the fifth and caught a break of sorts in the sixth, when he caught a punch below the belt, costing Munguia a point. But it’s telling when a healthy chunk of a fighter’s highlight reel amounts to absorbing a borderline nut-shot and complaints about low blows and phantom rabbit punches. O’Sullivan did land big right hands to end a couple early rounds, and he occasionally exploited Munguia’s ragged tendency to move his head straight back (or not at all). But he simply wasn’t built for this fight, and the longer O’Sullivan stood in with Munguia, the more apparent that fact became.
By the 8th, the Irishman’s boots seemed filled with Quikrete, and his balance was slow to return as Munguia landed more and cleaner and heavier blows. A round earlier, Munguia, seemingly on a whim, decided to start fighting behind his jab — and the approach absolutely agreed with him. He unleashed diverse punch combinations whenever he had O’Sullivan reeling, which was often. With a minute left in round 11, O’Sullivan — stumbling out of exhaustion as much as the damage dealt — was bounced off the ropes by a Munguia flurry and reached out for the first clinch of the fight. His trainer, Packie Collins, who between rounds seemed ready to resuce O’Sullivan from further punishment, had likely already seen enough. When the fighters were separated and Munguia uncorked 12 unanswered punches with his opponent pinned against the ropes, the towel hit the canvas before O’Sullivan did. Once referee Calo-oy turned to direct Munguia toward a neutral corner and saw Collins’ surrender at center ring, he called the stoppage at 2:17 of round 11.
In his postfight interview, Munguia, as is his solemn duty, called out Saul Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and the Charlo brothers — the best 160 has to offer. Is he ready? Christ, no. Landing 50% of your power shots against a guy whose biggest win came against Antoine Douglas is a far cry from holding your own against all-timers Canelo and GGG. Munguia is a heavy-handed kid who, at his current best, is a fun fighter. And who knows? Maybe trainer Erik Morales will find even more meat on the bone before as Munguia enters his prime. But there is much work to be done.
And, frankly, that’s fine. Ruining Munguia before he’s old enough to rent a car benefits no one, especially De La Hoya — which is why we’re likely to see more of these tilted matchups for the young Mexican in the near future. This, also, is OK. But maybe let’s stop selling these fights as main events, particularly when the undercard lead-in features a competitor who, at one point, wasn’t sure she was ready to continue a sloppy cavewoman war without her weave.
Boxing fans are agreeable. But they aren’t blind, and their pockets aren’t deep. The sport’s power brokers would be wise to avoid betting that their agreeability knows no bounds.