Preview: Munguia battles Johnson with packed undercard as Golden Boy returns

This Friday streaming live on DAZN (Oct. 30, 8 pm ET), former junior middleweight titleholder Jaime Munguia returns to headline Golden Boy’s first card since July, as he takes on veteran Tureano Johnson in what will be Munguia’s second real fight as a middleweight.

The 24-year-old Munguia (35-0, 28 KO) was considered a good prospect in Mexico back in 2018, but hadn’t picked up much buzz in the U.S. to that point, having only fought here once to that point, part of an off-TV undercard for an HBO event in Las Vegas in Dec. 2017.

Munguia’s name first entered headlines when Canelo Alvarez withdrew from a planned May 2018 rematch with Gennadiy Golovkin, following a failed VADA test. Golovkin didn’t want to give up the date, so the hunt was on for a new opponent. Munguia, then just 21 and with very little real experience, and also not really a middleweight (though a big junior middle), offered himself up.

The Nevada commission balked at that idea. Commissions allow blatant and obvious mismatches all the time, but every once in a while they find a reason to turn a fight down. Instead, Golovkin went to California and fought Vanes Martirosyan in a forgettable Cinco De Mayo main event on HBO. A week later, though, Munguia was on what was then boxing’s marquee network, having secured a shot at Sadam Ali’s WBO junior middleweight title.

How to Watch Munguia vs Johnson

Date: Friday, Oct. 30 | Start Time: 8:00 pm ET
Location: Fantasy Springs, Indio, CA
Stream: DAZN
Live Online Coverage:

While Golovkin-Martirosyan was a two-round wipeout that pretty much everyone saw coming, what happened in Ali-Munguia made an impression. The young Mexican fighter absolutely physically dominated Ali, who was coming off of a title-winning upset over Miguel Cotto five months earlier. With the win over Cotto, it seemed as though Ali, a former welterweight prospect with some hype that had fizzled, had finally delivered on his potential.

But he wasn’t really a true 154-pound fighter, and Cotto wasn’t, either. It was a “right place, right time” situation, and Munguia made him pay for fighting at junior middleweight. Ali simply couldn’t dent Munguia, and all Munguia did was dent Ali, dropping the titleholder twice in the first round and again in the second and fourth frames, where referee Gary Rosato stepped in to rightly stop the fight.

At 21, Munguia had come halfway out of nowhere to win a world title, and in inspired fashion. The immediate thought for promoters, of course, was that they had a potential box office star on their hands, and with good reason. A young, strong, exciting Mexican fighter who battered a titlist in a sudden, shocking breakthrough performance? Yeah, it’s a no-brainer. That’s a guy you’d want to have in your stable.

Munguia stayed impressive, returning just two months later to score a clear decision win over Liam Smith, the man he’d replaced on short notice to fight Ali in May. Smith was and is a really solid fighter, not elite tier, but definitely a legit 154-pound contender. Munguia put him down in the sixth, and while Smith had far more success than Ali did with the youngster, it was quite encouraging that Munguia had the gas tank and the focus to win a 12-round decision over a good junior middleweight, who gave plenty back and could stand up to Munguia’s fire for the most part. And in fact, I think the Smith win has aged quite a bit better.

Munguia got right back again in September, hopping on the Canelo-Golovkin 2 undercard for an easy win over Brandon Cook, who wasn’t really a contender, then returned in Jan. 2019 to win a virtual shutout over Takeshi Inoue in Houston, which was Munguia’s first headline fight on the then-new streaming service DAZN.

But cracks started showing in his next fight. Returning to Mexico for the first time since his world title win, Munguia got some fortunate scoring in Monterrey to retain his title over Dennis Hogan. We scored the fight for Hogan, the Irish-Aussie underdog, and so did many others. Some felt it wasn’t really a robbery, but no matter what you think of the scoring, it was obvious that Hogan’s craftiness and movement gave Munguia fits.

And while Munguia definitely said he felt he won — why wouldn’t he? — he also clearly knew he needed to make some changes. He hired Mexican legend Erik Morales as his new trainer, and stayed at 154 pounds for one more tital defense in Sept. 2019, beating down Patrick Allotey in four rounds. Allotey was stylistically pretty easy for Munguia and frankly didn’t seem like he wanted to be there after he felt Munguia’s power, but it was a win that gave Munguia some confidence back, perhaps, and also allowed he and his new trainer to get into a live fight together.

After that win, Munguia decided the time was right for a relatively long-discussed move up to middleweight. He picked up a stoppage win over veteran Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan in January of this year, which went about as expected; Ireland’s O’Sullivan has always been game, but has also always been found out at the higher levels. And again, the style matchup was one that didn’t figure to significantly challenge Munguia, and didn’t.

Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy

Friday’s opponent is Tureano Johnson (21-2-1, 15 KO), a 36-year-old originally from Nassau, Bahamas, who has been a fringe sort of contender at 160 for years now, never really breaking through to that next level.

Johnson’s first really notable fight came in Apr. 2014, when he was matched against thunderous puncher Curtis Stevens in Philadelphia. It was a controversial result, with referee Gary Rosato stepping in with 51 seconds remaining in the 10th and final round, giving Stevens a TKO win. Johnson led 88-83 on our score card at the time of the stoppage, and he hadn’t been dropped. Stevens had ripped him with his signature left hook, and Johnson was on the ropes and covering up, with Stevens throwing a bunch of shots that weren’t really landing. Less remembered, because of the ending, is that it was a really good fight.

Steven’s competition was drawn back for a while, as he won six in a row before a fight with Sergiy Derevyanchenko in Aug. 2017. Derevyanchenko was simply much too good for Johnson, routing him over the first 11 rounds before another final round stoppage, this one without any argument.

Johnson was out of the ring for all of 2018, and when he returned in Feb. 2019, he had a let-down performance aginst veteran club fighter/gatekeeper Fernando Castaneda, going to an eight-round draw on a Golden Boy card. Johnson’s performance was so lackluster that Golden Boy threw him in five months later against Jason Quigley, the Irish prospect whose career had seemed stalled for years.

Johnson put it on Quigley, stopping him after nine rounds in a pretty one-sided rout. At 35, it was probably a career-best win for Johnson, and got him some badly-needed momentum.

It has also landed him the fight with Munguia. He likely wouldn’t be fighting Munguia if Golden Boy weren’t really confident in Munguia winning, and they’ve seen him at his best and worst in his last two. Stylistically, he also doesn’t seem, on paper at least, to present any notable problems for the straight-ahead Munguia; Jaime likely will struggle with slicker boxers for his entire career, no matter what changes he tries to make, but Johnson isn’t slick.

Johnson is, though, pretty fearless, and a tough dude. He’s also been in with frankly better fighters than Munguia, and Jaime isn’t going to show him anything he hasn’t seen, either. Munguia will be favored and should be — he’s younger, he’s the A-side, and though he certainly has flaws and limitations, he’s a good fighter. This may be sort of a baby step up from Spike O’Sullivan, but it’s also got potential to be a really good action fight. If Munguia can win, he further legitimizes himself at 160 as he moves toward a potential world title fight in a second division.


Andrew Cancio v Rene Alvarado

Photo By Tom Hogan/Golden Boy/Getty Images

Maybe the most interesting matchmaking on the show is the welterweight co-feature between Rashidi “Speedy” Ellis and Alexis “Lex” Rocha, a pair of unbeaten 147-pounders looking to get into the contender mix.

Ellis (22-0, 14 KO) is a bit older than you might think off the top of your head at 27. He’s never been one of those gold star prospects, the guys who get the right handling right away and are steered toward stardom. He didn’t come out of a boxing hotbed, and after starting his career near home in Boston in 2013-14, he traveled around a good bit, fighting in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic from 2014-15, before coming back to the States in 2016 on the Canelo-Khan card, where Golden Boy got a real good look at him. He’s been on Golden Boy shows since.

Ellis’ best win came in 2016, when he knocked out Eddie Gomez in 79 seconds. Gomez was once a golden child sort of prospect, but he’d already lost a fight by then and just hasn’t panned out. The two met again in Nov. 2019, with Ellis winning a wide decision to halt the momentum Gomez hoped he was building.

The 23-year-old Rocha (16-0, 10 KO) turned pro with Golden Boy in 2016 at the age of 18, and has mostly had the normal prospect opposition to date. He’s done the job for the most part, though in his last fight there were some concerns. He beat Brad Solomon by decision, but the fight was much, much closer than the wide scores in Rocha’s favor, which literally everyone up to and including Rocha himself and promoter Oscar De La Hoya admitted.

Rocha and Ellis both want to get moving into the bigger money fights, and to do that, a win here is imperative. I think there are things to like about both fighters, reasons to pick either to win here, and this is the sort of matchmaking I wish we’d see more of with guys like these two.

Canelo Alvarez v Sergey Kovalev - Weigh-In

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Former U.S. Olympian Marlen Esparza will look to come back from her first career loss, suffered in Nov. 2019 at the hands of heated rival Seniesa Estrada, as she faces Sulem Urbina in a WBC flyweight eliminator. Being women’s boxing, an eliminator can be eight rounds, and this one is.

Esparza (7-1, 1 KO) turned pro in 2017, and now at 31, she wants to get into the title mix. Frankly speaking, I don’t think she compares very well to Mikaela Mayer, let alone Claressa Shields, as far as U.S. Olympians go, but that’s not to say she doesn’t have talent. She definitely does.

Last year, Estrada was just better than her, even though Esparza disagreed and largely blamed the result on a clash of heads that opened up what was, to be fair, a really gruesome cut that Esparza fought through until the fight had to be stopped. Esparza showed a lot of grit and a lot of desire.

Urbina (12-0, 2 KO) is a 30-year-old Mexican fighter now based in Phoenix. She hasn’t really fought anyone of note, but “of note” can be tough to figure in women’s boxing still. She was meant to fight Estrada earlier this year herself, but had to pull out late. The belt they’re fighting for a shot at is currently held by Ibeth Zamora Silva, who hasn’t fought since Nov. 2017 but is set to return in Mexico on Friday, as well, in a tune-up non-title fight.

Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy

There’s a world title fight on this show! And it might well be the show-stealer, as Elwin Soto returns to defend the WBO junior flyweight title against Carlos Buitrago.

Mexico’s Soto (17-1, 12 KO) pulled a controversial upset over Angel Acosta to win this belt in June 2019. The underdog had dropped Acosta in the third round, but Acosta had come back to take over the fight, and led on all three cards going into the 12th and final round. There, referee Thomas Taylor made the call 23 seconds into the round to stop the fight, with Acosta eating a hard body shot that did hurt him, but he didn’t go down. Taylor stopped the fight even though none of Soto’s follow-up shots appeared to connect, and Acosta was understandably furious.

The rematch didn’t come, as Acosta moved up to flyweight, so Soto returned in Oct. 2019 to defend against Edward Heno. The Filipino Heno gave Soto a terrific fight, which Soto won by close decision in a fight that really could have gone either way.

It’s not clear that Soto will have staying power as a top guy at 108, but it is clear that he’s very fun to watch. And he gets a solid test on Friday in the former of the 28-year-old Nicaraguan Buitrago (32-5-1, 18 KO), a good fighter who has always come up short in world title chances in the past. At 105 pounds, he drew with Merlito Sabillo in a WBO title fight in 2013, lost a decision to Knockout CP Freshmart in an interim WBA title bout in 2014, and was stopped in eight by Hiroto Kyoguchi in an IBF title fight in 2017. At 108 pounds, he was stopped in the 12th round by the aforementioned Acosta in a WBO title fight in 2018. He also lost a decision to McWilliams Arroyo in June 2019 in Puerto Rico.

Soto seems exactly vulnerable enough that Buitrago has to be considered a live dog here, but Soto could also keep improving and socre a good win with this one. The 105- and 108-pound divisions are often pretty unstable, even if you get guys like Wanheng Menayothin or Ivan Calderon, for recent examples, who have terrific and lengthy runs.

  • Uzbekistan super middleweight Bektemir “Bully” Melikuziev (5-0, 4 KO) will be back in action against young veteran Alan Campa (17-5, 11 KO) in a 10-round bout. This might seem like a bit of a sideways step from Melikuziev’s February win over Oscar Cortes, but Cortes was a lot worse than his 27-5 record coming in. The 28-year-old Campa’s record is about right; this is sort of his speciality, going out and seeing if he can give some rounds to prospects. He was stopped in four by Sergiy Derevyanchenko in 2015 and in five by Jesse Hart in 2017, but he did go the distance with D’Mitrius Ballard in 2018 and Erik Bazinyan in 2019. He’s lost three of his last four, though, and his level is what it is. Melikuziev, 24, should be expected to romp, in all honesty.
  • Former 130-pound title challenger Lamont Roach Jr (19-1-1, 7 KO) looks to bounce back from his Nov. 2019 loss to WBO titlist Jamel Herring, as he faces Neil John Tabanao in a 10-round bout. On paper, this is rust-shaker material. The 26-year-old Tabanao (17-7, 11 KO) is tough, but he’s been out-classed in three straight losses to Angelo Leo, Tramaine Williams, and Irving Turribiartes, and he’s really not a 130-pound fighter. Roach, 25, doesn’t seem to have that special, “next level” ability yet, but he’s a solid fighter.
  • 18-year-old cruiserweight Tristan Kalkreuth is still growing into his 6’4” frame, but Golden Boy like him and have been trying to keep him active. He just turned pro in Aug. 2019, and will turn 19 on Nov. 8, so he’s looking to get another win as an early birthday gift to himself. Kalkreuth has some things to like, for sure, but he’s very much a work in progress, as most 18-year-old fighters — or most 18-year-olds in general — are. He fought in January and March, so this will be his third time out this year. And he’s not taking any real step up against Tyler Vogel (3-3, 2 KO), a 28-year-old from North Dakota who last fought in June 2019, losing a four-round decision to Deontay Wilder’s brother Marsellos.

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