The restoration of Willie Monroe Jr

John Evans
28/06/2016 9:20am

Willie Monroe is set on becoming the architect of his own destiny.

The 29-year-old New Yorker built himself into a solid prospect by working on solid foundations, renovated himself following an early career loss to that human speed bump, Darnell Boone, and is now aiming to restore himself to contention after his world title defeat to Gennady Golovkin. Monroe, (20-2, 6 KOs), has only recently taken on the mantra “Brick by Brick” but it is an apt description of his boxing career.

“That’s been the story of my career,” Monroe told Boxing Monthly.

“I haven’t had it like these other guys where I’ve had backers behind me paying to build my career. It wasn’t until the BoxCino tournament [in 2014] when I started getting the right fights. Up until that point I had to sell my tickets and pay to play. I worked two jobs and trained out of a garage for five fights because the team I was with walked away from me after I lost a split decision to Darnell Boone. I had no gym to train in, no sparring, no ring. We turned a two and a half car garage into a gym big enough to work in, and I won five fights out of that garage. I think I actually spent more money getting ready for the fights than I made in the fights. That’s how much I wanted it though.”

After deciding that the potential reward of taking on the feared Golovkin was worth the risk, Monroe took the leap and faced off with the Kazakh in Los Angeles last May. Despite engaging the recognised middleweight champion far more than the vast majority of Golovkin’s opponents’ ‘Mongoose’ has been unable to capitalise on the gamble.

It’s over a year since the fight, but Monroe’s sole appearance since was a 10-round decision over former world title challenger, John Thompson, earlier this month. Monroe’s slick southpaw skills have ensured that meaningful opportunities have been few and far between, but he has also been in between promotional companies after leaving Banner Promotions. At the moment, he is simply enjoying his freedom.

“It’s almost like ending a relationship with a girl. I just wanna date right now. My options are open and we’re just enjoying the freedom. Being with Banner Promotions wasn’t a bad thing, but I was also being sued by my ex-manager. I had to do what was best for my family.

“It’s been frustrating. I didn’t go in there with Golovkin and just get knocked out, and lay down for a payday like everybody else does. I fought him, and I won two or three rounds. A lot of people didn’t expect me to do what I did, especially after getting up off the canvas. Look at Golovkin’s face afterwards. He was very boisterous about saying he let me hit him to create a show. I don’t think you let anybody bruise your face up like that. He was pretty swollen after the fight. I think it was a bit classless of him to say he let me hit him. He should have just said that Willie Monroe is a good fighter and he gave me a good fight.

“I think other fighters saw that, though, and saw that I’m the real deal. It’s similar to what Marvin Hagler said, I’ve got a few strikes against me. I’m good, I’m black and I’m a southpaw.”

Golovkin’s attempts to get Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez into the ring have been thwarted by the Mexican’s decision to return to 154lbs and face WBO junior middleweight champion, Liam Smith. Golovkin must now scour the middleweight division for a challenger. Whoever steps into the ring with ‘GGG’ next must not only deal with his ‘Mexican style’ aggression but also some tricks he has picked up from south of the border.

“He’s very cagey. He’s trained by Abel Sanchez and one of those old school Mexican things is to hit the guy on the hip, in the kidneys and behind my ear,” Monroe said.

“He kept hitting me with those shots and it rattled my cage. Not to mention, he’s a pretty hard puncher! When you’re getting hit in the hips and kidneys, that’ll zap your energy. From the third round until the fight was over I couldn’t feel my right leg. It was completely shot from getting hit with the left hook right on the hip. He’s very smart, and he did what he had to do to take my legs away.

“It was a learning experience for me and I take nothing away from the guy. He’s an awesome fighter and there’s a reason he is where he is. I’m just hoping 2016 shapes up to be a better year for me. I’ve been kind of anxious watching guys I beat in the amateurs making so much more [than me] on these PBC shows, and getting accolades, and here I am sitting at home. I’m a firm believer in God and God has a plan. I’m gonna stick diligently to what God wants me to do.”

The phrase, ‘It isn't enough to be good’ is more relevant today than ever. We live in a time where highlight reels are available at the swipe of a thumb, and a 15-minute slugfest in a cage makes SportsCenter’s Top Ten Plays of the Day countdown.

Rather than being lauded for their abilities, fighters of the calibre of Guillermo Rigondeaux, Wladimir Klitschko and, to a lesser extent, Andre Ward, have been castigated for choosing to utilise their skills rather than gambling on getting involved in fan pleasing brawls. After all, why read a book when you can do it for the vine? In the modern era it takes a strong mind to go against the grain and trust your skills and instincts to carry you to the top.

“I’ve gone back to doing what I used to do,” Monroe said.

“As an amateur I was very fast and threw a lot of punches. I was very flashy. I didn’t want to showboat; it was just my style. I always fought better when I was having fun. Upon turning pro and working with different trainers, especially trainers who have accomplished something, they almost want you to ‘humble’ yourself and fight the way they want you to fight. I had toned my style down. I wasn’t having fun anymore. I’d stopped duking and jiving and people were telling me that what I was doing wasn’t professional boxing.

“It was so contradictory. Early on I would throw a five or six punch combination and the commentators would say that’s how amateurs fight. He needs to learn to get people out in two or three shots. Then, when I’d try to pick my shots, they’d say I wasn’t throwing my hands enough. Which one is it? Screw it. I’m gonna go back to doing what I’m good at because that’s what got me there. Being fast, being flashy, showing six or seven punches, and having fun. Once I toned my style down and tried to become this basic ‘1-2-3-knockout’ boxer, that’s when I started getting hit.

“I got back with my amateur coach - Armando Muñoz - and around some people who take my opinion into consideration about how I fight. After the GGG fight, I went back home to Rochester and we had a conversation. He told me that he didn’t want any money from me, and that he just wanted me to get back to what I was doing and having fun. He told me to go back to having fun and duking and jiving. In Spanish we say, ‘Bailamos’ or ‘Don’t stop dancing.’ If people say I’m moving too much, screw them. I don’t need to take punches for anybody. Keep moving and keep dancing.

“That’s why I call myself ‘El Mongoose’. It has everything to do with my reflexes, and the way I make guys miss. The moniker came about when you look at my personality. Look at a mongoose. They’re furry and cuddly, and look like a little squirrel. They look like they couldn’t hurt a fly. Those things hunt cobras, one of the most deadly animals on the planet. I don’t come across as arrogant or wanting to fight all the time, but come fight time I flip a switch. My reflexes are a big part of my advantages.”

Britain has a solid foothold in the middleweight division, and should Monroe find the American middleweights less than willing to share the ring with him, a fight with WBO champion, Billy Joe Saunders, or Chris Eubank Jnr would make for an extremely attractive and meaningful fight for the division.

It could be argued that he rushed into the Golovkin fight, but it seems like Monroe learned plenty from the whole experience. The next time he goes into a big fight, he will do so with a style he is comfortable with, and secure that he is being looked after outside the ring.

“I would love to have some strength behind me [before heading to the UK] because the UK is not my back yard. This is a business at the same time. I’d like to come and fight a Billy Joe Saunders or a Chris Eubank Jnr but it has to be right. One thing I learned from the Golovkin fight is that politics will kick your ass worse than the actual fight. My business approach and savvy needed to reach the level of my boxing ability. I just need to be a little bit more shrewd.

“I just want to let my light shine and get the opportunities. It’s sad when the opportunities that you do get don’t match up to your skills and your work ethic, and people that do get the chances take it for granted. It’s disheartening and tough to see people in the spot that you want, when you know you’d handle it with a lot more class, and a lot more merit and dignity. But it is what it is, you know. I’ll get there.”