The super flyweight division offers one of the year's most appealing fights on Saturday when Mexico's classy Cristian Mijares meets Venezuelan puncher Alexander Munoz.
They are probably not considered big-name fighters -- unless you're an aficionado -- but Mijares and Munoz are big in skill. It is a clash of champions, the two best in the world at their weight, and probably the most significant fight at 115 pounds since Johnny Tapia outpointed Danny Romero in Las Vegas 11 years ago.
For Hispanic fans, the fight has the same cachet as great matches in the lighter weight classes such as Salvador Sanchez vs. Wilfredo Gomez, Gomez vs. Carlos Zarate and Rubin Olivares vs. Chucho Castillo, among many others.
A look at the fighters' records indicates the quality of the fight, which will be televised on pay-per-view from Mijares' hometown of Gomez Palacio, Durango, Mexico.
Mijares hasn't lost in six years, and he has won seven consecutive world title bouts.
"El Explosivo" Munoz has lost only twice, both times to Martin Castillo, in 34 fights, and he knocked down the excellent Mexican fighter in the rematch.
Munoz has won seven title fights in two reigns as champion, and he is the puncher in Saturday's bout, with 27 of his 32 wins coming inside the distance.
Fights such as this are usually memorable, matching fiercely proud, skilled fighters at the top of their form.
Mijares, 26, has established himself as one of boxing's best champions. His dominant win over Jorge Arce a year ago surprised a lot of people. The powerful Arce was outclassed; he couldn't do a thing with Mijares, who put on a masterful display of boxing.
Munoz's biggest wins have been in Japan, where he has appeared seven times. He was disappointing in his first fight with Castillo, who gave him something of a boxing lesson in Texas.
Munoz fought like a man who expected to walk in and knock his man out that night, and he had good reason for such a line of thought, having halted 23 opponents in 24 bouts before meeting Castillo. While Munoz was seeking to land his bombs, Castillo was scoring points. More than this, Castillo twice knocked Munoz down.
Sometimes a fighter can show improvement after a defeat, and such was the case with Munoz. He had become too infatuated with his punching power and neglectful of technique. Munoz fought much better in the rematch with Castillo, losing by split decision.
In his recent fights, Munoz, 29, has not been blowing people out, but his performances have been more skillful, with use of the jab and combinations as well as proper balance and pacing. He has stopped only two of his past seven opponents, but the points wins were against boxers known for durability or, in the case of Kuniyuki Aizawa, exceptional speed and elusiveness.
Mijares, who had a desperate struggle when winning the title from the tough banger Katsushige Kawashima in Japan, has matured into a high-quality technician who is pleasing to watch because he is willing to fight on the inside as well as box at long range. He showed his big heart when, after being knocked down heavily in the second round by Kawashima, he finished strongly to win by split decision. In a rematch four months later, Mijares wore down Kawashima for a stoppage in 10 rounds. This, and the win over Arce, saw Mijares at his absolute best.
In his most recent fight, though, Mijares found himself involved in a war with the seemingly perennial world title challenger, Jose Navarro. That was the fight in which one judge astonishingly had Mijares losing every round. It was a split decision that was one round on one scorecard from being a draw.
Mijares took a lot of punches in that fight, and although he was a worthy winner he had to dig deep.
Prior to the Navarro fight, I would have made Mijares a fairly strong favorite over Munoz, but doubts were raised. Navarro is a top-quality fighter, but if he was able to land so many punches, it seems a fair assumption that Munoz, too, will be hitting the target -- and the Venezuelan is heavy-handed.
It is possible, though, that Mijares, fighting in Las Vegas on pay-per-view, wanted to put on an exciting show. By staying right in front of Navarro in a give-and-take way, Mijares certainly made it a fun fight for the fans, but he also made it harder for himself than probably was necessary.
Mijares is an intelligent, experienced boxer and he surely knows that getting involved in prolonged exchanges with Munoz is probably not a good idea. So, I would expect Mijares to box and move, getting in and getting out, and try to sap Munoz's strength by going to the body every chance he gets.
Munoz will be putting pressure on Mijares from the start, seeking to drive in the straight right hand through the middle and looking to bring the left hooks and uppercuts into play when he closes the distance. Mijares will have to use his superior speed, beating Munoz to the punch, getting off the one-twos and combinations from his southpaw stance and trying to bemuse the bigger puncher with movement, always trying to stay a step ahead.
It would be a big risk for Mijares to get too enthusiastic and stay in front of Munoz too long. There might be a chance for Mijares to do some sustained scoring, but probably not until later in the fight, and only if he has managed to slow Munoz down.
Munoz is probably the most technically proficient fighter Mijares has faced, and perhaps ominously the Venezuelan boxer has never had any trouble with southpaws -- he destroyed Thailand's former flyweight champion Sornpichai Kratingdaenggym and outclassed Eiji Kojima, Celes Kobayashi and Hidenobu Honda.
The Gomez Palacio setting helps Mijares, of course. He can draw strength from the crowd's support.
There is a suspicion, too, that Munoz might be struggling to make the 115-pound limit. He had to lose weight at the weigh-in for his last fight, against Katsushige Kawashima, and although he won a unanimous decision, Munoz did seem to be struggling a bit in the later rounds. Mijares, meanwhile, is noted for coming on strongly late in fights -- big finishes earned him the verdicts in his first fight with Kawashima and in February's thriller with Navarro.
Someone as seasoned, competent and dangerous as Munoz has to be respected, but Mijares has the opportunity to score a memorable victory if he boxes the sort of savvy fight of which he is capable. I believe that Mijares will do this, and I expect him to overcome moments of adversity to take command with sharp boxing and quick punching to take a hard-fought but unanimous decision.
Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.