As Jaime Munguia makes the third defense of his WBO junior middleweight title against Takeshi Inoue (13-0-1, 7 KOs) Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, a familiar face will be leading him into battle.
Robert Alcazar, for years the lead trainer of Hall of Famer Oscar De La Hoya, believes he has the next Mexican superstar in Munguia.
Their daily workouts take place at the Gladiator Gym, which is owned by welterweight contender John Molina, in Baldwin Park, California. This private facility in a small industrial structure is surrounded by other tenants who use their spaces for welding and crafting materials.
It's a rather unusual place for a boxing gym, but an appropriate one given that Alcazar is still working on constructing Munguia, one of the breakout boxers of 2018, into a more complete fighter. Munguia has a hell-bent-for-leather fighting spirit that has resonated with fans, but the 22-year-old from Tijuana remains very much a work in progress.
There's more to this game than just punching someone into submission. For his long-term success, not every bout can resemble a demolition derby. His current style is great for the fans, but not so conducive for his own longevity.
Getting Munguia to master the jab is Alcazar's top priority. The jab is not only an weapon that can spearhead an offensive attack. When used with proper spacing and timing it can be a defensive shield. Effective use of the jab will help make the long-reach Munguia a more efficient fighter.
"Basically, right now he's a puncher-fighter and I'm trying to make him a puncher-boxer, the other way around," Alcazar explained with a chuckle. "So I'm very, very focused on teaching him to get the distance and use the jab and have great leg movement."
For Munguia (31-0, 26 KOs), his best defense will always be his offense. His heavy hands and youthful stamina allow him to apply 36 minutes of sustained pressure and overwhelm his opponents. That will never change, as it is his ring identity -- he wasn't born to outbox anybody. But for him to truly reach the upper echelon of the sport, Munguia has to evolve and become more multi-faceted.
Time is on his side, though, and in many respects Alcazar has a blank canvas to work with.
"He's got great talent and that talent is giving him the advantage to adjust real quick. He's like a sponge, he absorbs everything right now, and he's been doing great. Hopefully, we have the opportunity to see that in his next fight," Alcazar said.
Munguia, who had been training with Alcazar for about a year, clearly relishes this union.
"Without a doubt, I really enjoy the work," Munguia said. "I think I've learned a lot from him and I think we're progressing little by little, we're getting better.
"I'm a better defensive fighter, I know how to move better in the ring. It's subtle stuff that I needed to learn."
So at the very least, Munguia understands what Alcazar is trying to implement. How quickly it will fully translate to live competition remains to be seen.
On this day, Munguia sparred eight rounds, the first three with the experienced Joshua Conley, who has a record of 14-3-1 (9 KOs) and has faced the likes of world-ranked Julian Williams.
The rounds with Conley were by far the most heated, and truthfully, there wasn't much boxing from Munguia, as he attacked Conley aggressively from the opening bell.
"Ah man, you've got to be on your points, you've got to be sharp, if not, he's going to wear you down, beat you down, go to the body, he has a lot of power," an exhausted Conley said of moving around with Munguia. "He's very big, so he uses his size well. You've got to be ready, stay off the ropes."
This wasn't so much sparring, but really fighting with headgear and bigger gloves.
"Yeah, with him it's crazy. That was more than a sparring session," said Conley, who landed his share of punches.
Conley noted that Munguia needs to work on is bringing his punches back quicker, but other than that, he's straight.
"He's a good fighter," Conley said.
It's those little things that Alcazar constantly stresses during their time in the gym. Against the less accomplished boxers in the subsequent rounds, Munguia practiced his feints from the outside and even worked on counter-punching with his back to the ropes.
It's clear that he can do all the things that get the fans excited and will surely make him a marquee name in the sport. The question is: Can Munguia master the nuances that can get him to an elite level?
"I think I'm learning how to fight at a distance. Before, I was always inside, and now I know how to keep my guy away from me, and those are the things you need to do," said Munguia, who captured the WBO belt in May by bludgeoning the physically overmatched Sadam Ali in four rounds and later made two title defenses.
"I'm going in there learning new things," Munguia said. "I enjoy working with Roberto. He's taught me a lot of things every day, every week, every month,"
One thing is very evident at this stage of his career and life -- Mungia very much enjoys the process. He's a fighter who actually shows up on time to the gym, and that's a rarity.
According to Alcazar, Munguia's focus is actually heightened now.
"At the beginning, before he fought for the title, that was basically the goal that everybody else has -- just to become a champion," Alcazar said. "So now, we're in a different process, it's a different challenge. Now as a champion he wants to be the best champion out there, not just a champion."
In other words, Munguia has bigger aspirations than being another belt-holder. There are plenty of those. This precocious wrecking ball from south of the border has aspirations of being a star.
"That's what he does with his life; he is work, work, work, every single day and anytime he has to work, he's 24/7," Alcazar said. "Everything starts from the beginning. That's one of his advantages that he has. He knows what he wants and he's willing to do it, and he's willing to do the sacrifices. Whatever it takes, he's willing to do it. And that's making everything easy for him."
After Alcazar's run with De La Hoya ended, he faded from the sport -- while he had stints with the likes of Edwin Valero and Jessie Vargas, he never had another signature boxer. But in Munguia he says he has his most talented fighter since De La Hoya, and more importantly, the hardest working fighter he's ever had.
"Finally I am working with somebody that knows what he wants. He's willing to do the sacrifices that it takes to do that," said Alcazar, who perhaps never got the proper amount of credit for developing De La Hoya and probably got too much heat for his shortcomings.
It's clear just how much Alcazar enjoys working with this young kid in the gym. This old jockey once again has a thoroughbred he can train to great results. Right now, things are relatively uncomplicated -- a young eager boxer learning from an experienced hand who's been down this road before.
It will be interesting to see how Munguia handles the added limelight and attention that will surely come his way in the near future. At this moment, he can just focus on being a boxer and honing the tools of his trade.
"That's basically the way he is," said a beaming Alcazar. "If you notice, how many fighters at his level fight five times in a year? So he's always at the gym between fights, he basically takes two, three days off and that's all. He is in the gym every single day. He never misses running, he never misses the gym and he's always on time because he knows he wants to be the best."