Glynn Evans provides the skinny on the latest challenger to WBO Middleweight monarch Billy Joe Saunders – and discovers a natural born fighter who’s been weaving since the womb.
1: Willie Monroe Jr was born into a boxing dynasty in Rochester, New York State in December 1986. He was inducted into the sport’s nuances by his late grandfather Lee Monroe – an accomplished amateur - from the tender age of six.
His great uncle, Willie ‘The Worm’ Monroe was one of just three pros to defeat Marvellous Marvin Hagler. ‘The Worm’, one of an iconic quartet of Philadelphia middleweights in the 1970s, prevailed by 10 round decision at the ‘City of Brotherly Love’s’ Spectrum Arena in what the Boxing News report dubbed ‘a thrashing’ (March 1976).
Monroe Jr’s father, Willie Lee ‘The Body Rock’ Monroe was also a world rated middleweight who lost just four of 31 between 1985-2000 but never got to contest a world title.
Predictably, Monroe Jr evolved into a well travelled, highly decorated amateur, winning 128 of 142 bouts. In 2007, he nailed the coveted New York Golden Gloves title and reaching the national final. Also a talented musician, he graduated Rochester’s School of the Arts before opting to punch for his lunch in March 2008.
2: Starting out with DiBella Entertainment, the upstate New Yorker won 10 straight but was ditched by his entire support team after dropping an eight round split to one-time Adonis Stevenson conqueror Darnell Boone in March 2011.
Thereafter, Monroe Jr was redundant from the ring for 17 months, instead earning his crust by fixing radios, selling sneakers at Foot Locker and through painful shifts as a spar hand to Miguel Cotto.
He eventually resurfaced under Artie Pellulo’s Banner Promotions and within two years had cruised to the 2014 ESPN screened Boxcina middleweight title, trouncing Lithuania’s Donatas Bondorovas (18-4-1), the Ukraine’s Vitalii Kopylenko (22-0) and LA’s Brandon Adams (14-0), all by comprehensive unanimous decision. A follow up scalping of division gatekeeper Brian Vera verified Monroe Jr as a viable world contender.
[Image credit: HBO]
3: Nine wins on the bounce propelled the Ithaca resident into a May 2015 challenge to Gennady Golovkin for the WBA Super and WBC interim middleweight belts, live on HBO.
Alas, ‘Triple G’, a 50-1 on favourite defending for the 14th time, delivered ‘Big Drama Show’ for the bloodthirsty 12, 372 in attendance at California’s Inglewood Forum.
Wispy Willie connected with plenty but lacked the pop to dissuade the clattering Kazakh who dumped him twice in round two and again in round six, prompting the mauled Monroe to whisper ‘I’m done’ to referee Jack Reiss, after 45 seconds of the session.
4: Trained by Danny Ackers and Tony Morgan, ‘El Mongoose’ is a spidery southpaw with an imposing 74in wingspan.
His attributes include a stinging jab, swift feet and excellent lateral movement but perhaps his best weapon is his ring intelligence. Just six stoppage wins in 23 starts suggest he tickles rather than tortures. His listed ring idols, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roy Jones Jr, were both swift, skilful, cerebral types.
‘You might encounter plenty who are stronger and more powerful but you can always outthink any opponent,’ serves as the Monroe mantra.
5: Post Golovkin, Monroe Jr rebounded with a brace of landslide wins over ex WBO Super-Welter challenger John Thompson (pts10) and perennial contender Gabe Rosado (pts12) to secure the all southpaw skill fest with Saunders at London’s Copper Box Arena on September 16th.
His record presently rests at 21-2 and he is world ranked by both the WBA (7) and WBO (5). The 30 year old has never fought outside the US – 15 fights took place in his home state – and he will have been dormant from duty for 12 months when he finally faces the unbeaten Hatfield traveller. He enters as the bookies’ outsider.
Nevertheless, this humble, respectful, God-fearing crusader is quietly confident that he can deliver Rochester its second world champion after Charles ‘The Natural’ Murray, who reigned on the IBF light-welter throne in the mid 90s.
He says: ‘Some need to be constantly told they’re the best, others are motivated by people telling them they can’t do it. I’m one who’s always looking to prove people wrong.’