Once again, Jamie Munguia has opportunity in front of him

Jaime Munguia, left, replaced Liam Smith in a junior middleweight title bout in May, won the belt, and now defends against Smith on Saturday. AP Photo/John Locher

As Jaime Munguia gets set to make the first defense of his junior middleweight world title, he holds no ill will toward the Nevada State Athletic Commission. In fact, now he rather appreciates the decision executive director Bob Bennett made earlier this year.

When the rematch between unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, originally scheduled for May 5 in Las Vegas, was canceled following Alvarez's two failed drug tests, Golovkin's team went to work trying to find a replacement opponent so Golovkin could still fight on that date. Munguia was the opponent Team Golovkin targeted, but when he was brought up to the commission, Bennett would not approve him.

Bennett's reasoning was understandable: Munguia was a vastly inexperienced 21-year-old -- a prospect, really -- who had faced nobody of remote consequence, and he would be moving up in weight to fight one of boxing's pound-for-pound elites.

Ultimately, Golovkin's fight was moved to Carson, California, where he destroyed junior middleweight Vanes Martirosyan in the second round.

Munguia, meanwhile, continued preparing for a fight in Mexico in May. Then the door for another big opportunity opened for him.

Junior middleweight world titlist Sadam Ali had been due to make his first defense against mandatory challenger and former titlist Liam "Beefy" Smith on May 12, but when Smith had to withdraw due to illness, suddenly Ali needed an opponent on short notice.

Ali didn't want to have his date canceled, and barely 24 hours after Smith's withdrawal, he agreed to fight Munguia, who was happy to accept the fight as well on two weeks' notice.

They met in Verona, New York, and Munguia walked through Ali, knocking him out with ease in the fourth round of an utterly one-sided, potentially star-making performance.

In just a few weeks, Munguia had gone from a would-be massive GGG underdog opponent who wasn't approved to fight him to winning a world title in spectacular fashion. Oh, how times change.

Munguia inherited the mandatory obligation against Smith, and they will meet in the main event of a "Boxing After Dark" world title doubleheader on Saturday (HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT) at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. The card will also include Freddie Roach-trained junior lightweight world titlist Alberto Machado (19-0, 16 KOs), 27, of Puerto Rico, making his first defense against mandatory challenger and fellow southpaw Rafael Mensah (31-0, 23 KOs), 27, of Ghana.

Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs), of Mexico, is quite pleased with how things worked out for him.

"At first I thought it was weird they wouldn't allow me to fight Golovkin, but I guess things happen for a reason, and now I'm a world champion," Munguia told ESPN through a translator. "The outcome was much better for me, and winning the title has opened a lot of doors for me. I am grateful for what happened. The outcome was much better for my career."

Munguia said he never felt insulted by Bennett's decision, though he did question one thing about it.

"It's not that I felt insulted or understood it, but I just kept training and moving forward," he said. "What bothered me was the Nevada commission allowed Floyd Mayweather to fight Conor McGregor [last summer]. Floyd was one of best of all time, and McGregor had never put on boxing gloves [as a pro]. But they wouldn't approve me, a real pro, to fight Golovkin? So that's what bothered me a little bit. I know I would have given Golovkin a much better fight than Vanes Martirosyan gave to GGG. But things happen for a reason, and I thank them for making me famous.

"The potential fight against Gennady Golovkin really got my name out there. It allowed me to get the opportunity to fight for a world title. I'm grateful for that. I'm also grateful that the NSAC didn't allow me to fight against Golovkin, because it led to this world title."

Ali was a natural welterweight who had upset Miguel Cotto for a junior middleweight world title and elected to defend it against Munguia, who was much bigger. Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs), 29, of England, is a natural junior middleweight, and Munguia expects a tougher fight.

"Liam Smith is a tough fighter. We know what kind of style he has. He's the type of fighter who will come forward and throw a lot of punches," Munguia said. "He has an advantage because he's been in big fights before. But I have a lot of experience as well. I've had over 100 amateur fights and I have fought all over Mexico. We also know what style he will bring. Smith is the kind of fighter who will stand in front of you with a high guard and then suddenly throw a lot of punches.

"We both come forward and we both throw a lot of punches, so there is a high possibility that this fight will end in a knockout. If we don't get the knockout, I'm prepared to go the 12 rounds."

Smith previously held the same belt Munguia has. Smith won the vacant title in 2015, made two successful defenses and then suffered his only loss, a ninth-round knockout to Alvarez before more than 50,000 at the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium in September 2016. He has won three fights in a row since to position himself for another title fight.

"It was unfortunate to pull out of the Sadam Ali fight, but my loss was Jaime Munguia's gain," Smith said. "He stepped in and he won the title. I was kept in the mandatory position and now I've got my shot against a good champion.

"It should be an exciting fight. He's an exciting combatant who comes to fight. He's young and he's hungry. But you know me. I'm not going to come here and lie down. It's not the Jaime Munguia show for me. I'm here to do my job. I'm here to do what I set out to do and get my title back."

Munguia has no plans to allow Smith to wrest the 154-pound belt away from him. His aim is to knock out Smith quicker than Alvarez did.

"I think it will be extremely important for my career to do that," Munguia said. "People will be comparing me to Canelo, so the least amount of rounds as possible is what I want."

And if he beats Smith, Munguia has some thoughts on what he would like to eventually do.

"I'd definitely like to fight Golovkin in the next year or two," he said. "I believe I have what it takes to be the next superstar in boxing. A lot of people are paying attention to me now and to what I'm doing. These days Canelo has had some setbacks, a little bit of loss of credibility. I just have to keep training, keep winning and keep moving forward.

"I feel very motivated now that I am a world champion. Everyone is going to talk about me after this fight. This will open up more opportunities, and people will mention my name with the likes of Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin."