Junior middleweight world titlist Jaime Munguia and his co-promoters, Golden Boy and Zanfer Promotions, have ambitious plans for the rising Mexican star.
If all goes well over the next few fights, there is little doubt that the big fight he is being positioned for in the future is a shot at unified middleweight world champion and countryman Canelo Alvarez, who is also with Golden Boy and represents the big-money, high-profile fight every titleholder and contender seeks in and around the 160-pound division. But it's a process to get there and Munguia and his team know it.
There is no rush. Munguia is only 22 and still gaining valuable experience at 154 pounds, where he will make his third title defense, against Takeshi Inoue on Saturday (DAZN, 7 p.m. ET) in the main event at the Toyota Center in Houston.
Inoue (13-0-1, 7 KOs), 29, of Japan -- no relation to Japanese pound-for-pound star Naoya Inoue -- is entirely unknown and will be fighting outside of his home country for the second time after one bout in Thailand.
Munguia (31-0, 26 KOs) is expected to win. That is obvious in that this is an optional defense and Inoue was hand-picked as an opponent against whom Munguia's handlers believe he can shine as he continues to raise his profile and gain fans, especially among Mexican-Americans.
It's been a quick rise so far for Munguia, who was at first known only as the guy the Nevada State Athletic Commission declined to license to challenge then-unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin this past May when GGG needed a short-notice opponent after Alvarez's suspension for a positive drug test.
The Nevada officials deemed Munguia too inexperienced at a world-class level to face Golovkin, especially since he would have to move up in weight.
The dis was a blessing in disguise for Munguia, who soon after got a shot at then-junior middleweight titlist Sadam Ali when he needed a new opponent on short notice. Munguia bludgeoned him in a fourth-round knockout win to win the belt in May, then dropped Liam Smith and pounded him in a highly entertaining unanimous decision win in July.
Then Munguia landed the plum slot in the co-feature on the Canelo-GGG rematch undercard when it was rescheduled in September and Munguia blasted out Brandon Cook in the third round. And now it's on to Inoue, with plans for a busy year to follow if Munguia wins.
"There's a lot of competition at 154 pounds. I'm willing to fight all of them," Munguia said. "I'm happy to start the year off early. I fight when I'm told to fight, so I'm glad that I'm already fighting in January. If they put four fights in front of me for this year, then I'll fight four times.
"I have worked hard to be in main events like this. I think for me this is just the start. I want to make history. I was happy to be the co-main event of Canelo versus GGG II, and now that I'm headlining this event, I am more motivated."
Although most expect Munguia to win handily, he said he has prepared the right way under the guidance of trainer Robert Alcazar, knowing a defeat would crush his plans.
"Takeshi Inoue is a strong fighter. He comes forward. He doesn't mind taking a punch in order to land one," Munguia said. "We have to be careful with that and come very prepared. We have to be careful with his right hand, as well."
Eric Gomez, the president of Golden Boy Promotions, said Inoue was selected as the opponent because he is a solid fighter who will come forward, be aggressive and make for a crowd-pleasing fight even if Munguia is the heavy favorite.
"Jaime is developing a very good following. He's a very young kid," Gomez said. "All the big fights will come. Right now we are building his fan base and getting him all the experience he needs. Eventually, he will be ready to fight all the top fighters at 154 and 160."
If all goes well Saturday, Gomez said Munguia's next fight will be a mandatory defense against Dennis Hogan (28-1-1, 7 KOs), 33, an Ireland native fighting out of Australia.
"After this fight, it looks like I will have a WBO mandatory bout against Dennis Hogan, but I would still like to unify the titles at 154 pounds with the other champions," Munguia said. "We will resolve anything that is put in front of us."
But there will soon come the inevitable move up to middleweight.
"The plan is to move up to 160 pounds in about a year. We're fine making weight now. I have no problems, but I feel I can move up and fight in other divisions," Munguia said. "My body is such that I could even go up to 168 pounds."
Once Munguia is at middleweight, the clock will be ticking toward a showdown with Alvarez or perhaps Golovkin, depending which broadcaster GGG opts to sign with.
"He definitely wants Canelo, but only time will tell," Gomez said. "If Jaime keeps passing these tests and doing what he is supposed to and getting the experience, eventually that will be a big fight down the line. It will come down to Canelo's decision. It would be up to him. It would be at his discretion if he wants to give the kid an opportunity.
"I would love to see the fight. I think it would be a terrific fight. If you go down the history of Mexican fighters fighting each other it's always a war, like [Marco Antonio] Barrera-[Erik ]Morales or Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez. There's a lot of pride and heart involved. If we could make the fight, it would be an incredible fight. But first he has the fight with Inoue. Then if everything is good, he has a mandatory next and then the sky's the limit."
Munguia knows there are big fights in his future if he keeps winning, and he is content to take his time, hone his skills and build his fan base.
"I don't think there is any pressure with being mentioned with names like Canelo and Golovkin. I like this. It's fun," he said. "I'm happy to be in fights like this and to see that we are advancing. So, the truth is we are happy.
"I am conscious of what I am doing. I think I can move up to 160 pounds and fight any of the two. It's a risk because there will always be risks. Those are the two best fighters in the world. We would have to be very careful and come very well prepared. I don't think it would happen soon, so we have to see what the future holds for us."
Saturday's card will also feature secondary featherweight world titlist Jesus Rojas defending against Xu Can in the co-feature.
Rojas (26-2-2, 19 KOs), 32, of Puerto Rico, won an interim title by seventh-round knockout of Claudio Marrero in September 2017 and was eventually elevated to a full titleholder. He made his first defense against Joseph Diaz Jr. on Aug. 11 but lost a unanimous decision. However, Rojas still has the title because Diaz was overweight for the fight. Can (15-2, 2 KOs), 24, of China, who will be fighting in the United States for the second time in a row, has won 12 consecutive fights since a defeat in 2014.
Blue-chip junior welterweight prospect Vergil Ortiz Jr. (11-0, 11 KOs), 20, of Dallas, is also on the card, in a 10-rounder against Jesus Valdez (23-4-1, 12 KOs), 26, of Mexico. The fight will be Ortiz's first since he was supposed to fight Dec. 15 on the Canelo Alvarez-Rocky Fielding undercard at New York's Madison Square Garden but had his fight canceled on the day of the weigh-in because the New York State Athletic Commission would not license him because he had undergone a LASIK eye surgery two months earlier.