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CANELO VS. MUNGUIA: WHO'S THE REAL MEXICAN?

By Paul Magno | May 03, 2024
CANELO VS. MUNGUIA: WHO'S THE REAL MEXICAN?

Is there a battle inside the battle when it comes to this Saturday’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Jaime Munguia PBC/Prime Video pay-per-view main event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas? Are there some serious wounded pride issues going on when it comes to the undisputed super middleweight champ and a young challenger who fits more squarely into the idea of what a Mexican fighter is supposed to be?

A man-on-the-Mexican-street perspective would indicate that the answer to that may be “yes.” And it actually has little to do with Alvarez’s animosity towards former promoter Oscar De La Hoya, who co-promotes Munguia.

In March, I marked my twenty-fourth year living in Mexico. There’s been good and bad to that. Like, for instance, kidnappings and beheadings have become a much larger part of my life dialogue than they used to be in the States, even while growing up in a no-hope barrio in Chicago. 

But, on the good side of things (among many other good things), I get to talk all the boxing I want, everywhere I go. It should go without saying that Mexicans love their boxeo and they love to talk up their favorites and talk down their not-so-favorites. 

These last few years, though, have not been great for Mexican fight fans. There’s not nearly the same enthusiasm in the boxing discourse these days. Even hardcore fans here sometimes struggle to remember which big fights are coming up and who are the big stars of today. There’s almost a jaded tone to the fandom as they talk way more about the “business of boxing” than the lefts and rights inside the ring. 

This is the era of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez-- for all intents and purposes, the only real Mexican boxing star at the moment. 

And, more often than not, at least in my admittedly limited interactions in the Central Mexican heartland, he’s not regarded as a “real” Mexican star. 

People still watch him, of course. Records are set, ratings are high. Canelo fights are bankable events. But it’s not as much about the fights these days as it is about the spectacle-- who’s singing the national anthem, who’s singing him to the ring, who’s with him during the ring walk, which national celebrities are in attendance? The fights are almost secondary and, to many, almost foregone conclusions. The word on the Mexican street is that Canelo is all showbiz, all business. 

Many of those same fans, however, will offer up the name of someone who IS a “real” fighter-- Jaime Munguia.

Who knows how these things happen and why they happen, but Munguia’s career has captured the attention of Mexican fight fans. He fights how they like their fighters to fight and he carries himself with the “aw shucks” humility Mexicans appreciate in their heroes. 

“Canelo’s all show business,” Paco, the taquero, told me not too long ago. “But that kid Munguia, he fights with balls!”

And, although there’s a world of difference in the two fighters’ level of opposition to this date, many Mexican fans just don’t show any more appreciation for Canelo’s recent body of work than Munguia’s.

In part, this has to do with Mexican fight fans not following the larger weights and not knowing who Canelo is fighting and why they’re important. To many, the difference between Callum Smith and Billy Joe Saunders versus Jimmy Kelly and Gary O'Sullivan is negligible. They don’t really know any of these people. 

But that’s not the entire reason.

Alvarez is not the typical boxer Mexican fight fans have come to adore. He’s not the stoic, somewhat brutish come-forward battler with an almost fatalistic tinge to his fighting. He never dives into the do-or-die warrior pathos Mexicans love in their stars. Alvarez is always in charge, using skill and guile to disarm opposition rather than raw brute force. Although the will power needed to apply a sound, calculated game plan can be just as great as what’s needed in an all-out war, the end result is certainly not as satisfying to a fan base that often values a tough, honest battle more than victory. Canelo has rarely, if ever, truly gone to war in the traditional Mexican sense and he’s shown no inclination to do so since becoming a main stage attraction. He doesn’t bleed, he doesn’t suffer in the ring and then push through that suffering like Mexican fight fans have come to demand.

Munguia, meanwhile, fits perfectly into that archetype of the “true” Mexican warrior. He’s vulnerable. He fights with abandon. He can be hit. He can be hurt. He has to fight back, using his will and stubborn pride to beat down his opponent. He is, ultimately, pleasing to the eye for those fans looking for a more “Mexican” alternative to Canelo Alvarez. 

If I’ve heard these man-on-the-Mexican-street takes on the two fighters, Canelo and his team surely have as well. And maybe that’s at the heart of Alvarez’s decision to go back on his vow to never fight another fellow Mexican. Maybe that’s why Alvarez, who doggedly refuses to work with anyone he reads as disrespectful to him, was willing to do business with the hated Oscar De La Hoya. 

Although there’s been nothing but public respect and cordial dialogue between the two men during the lead-in to this fight, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Alvarez’s pride is boiling beneath the surface of professional niceties. The king doesn’t often take kindly to the prince receiving more accolades from his subjects. And by putting Munguia away, Alvarez will not only be burying a successor to his world championship throne, but also a threat to a much-desired recognition as a Mexican boxing legend-- something he has obsessed over since he was an 18-year-old kid.

For that reason, Canelo may come in a bit harder for this upcoming fight, a bit more aggressive, and with a chip on his shoulder that contrasts with his current “he’s a good kid, he’s earned the shot” public demeanor. To not think that ego plays a huge factor in the makeup of a fighter is to not understand what it takes to drive oneself to greatness as a fighter. 

An angry-proud Alvarez, however, plays right into what Munguia and his team want and need to score the upset. They need for there to be a fight at T-Mobile and not a boxing match. 

No matter what happens this Saturday, the winner of Alvarez-Munguia will have to “fight like a Mexican” to win the bout and win over the Mexican fight fan. This is more than just a battle for money and a bunch of belts.

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