By Briggs Seekins; #briggsfighttalk on Twitter
Southern Tier and Central New York fight fans will get the opportunity to see one of the area’s top boxing stars fight close to home this Friday when rising middleweight contender Willie Monroe Jr. faces undefeated Ukrainian Vitaliy Kopylenko in the semi-finals of the ESPN Friday Night Fights Boxcino middleweight tournament at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, NY.
A Rochester native and former resident of Ithaca, NY, Monroe was an amateur standout who came up through the highly regarded Ithaca GIAC program. He is an Empire Games winner, a New York State Golden Gloves Champion, and a finalist in the National Golden Gloves.
Monroe comes from a notable boxing family. His father, Willie Monroe Sr., was a prominent contender in the 1990s. His great-uncle, Willie “The Worm” Monroe, was a Philadelphia boxing legend and the only professional fighter to ever record an uncontested victory over the immortal Marvin Hagler.
“It was definitely an honor to come from that,” Monroe told me when we spoke by phone. “And it’s helped me in the sport to have a recognizable name. But my boxing was more built on my relationship with my grandfather, Willie the Worm’s older brother. He raised me, and becoming a boxing champion was always a Holy Grail for us.”
These days Monroe is training in Florida and working with Tony Morgan, the former trainer of WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto. He’s also continued to work with GIAC fixture Danny Akers, his trainer since his amateur days and the trainer for Willie Monroe Sr. “Danny came down this week,” said Monroe. “I’ve known him my whole life, Danny’s like family.”
Monroe enters the fight with a 16-1 record and six knockouts. He’s hot off the biggest win of his career, a six-round unanimous decision over Lithuanian Donatas Bondorovas last February in the first round of the Boxcino tournament. Bondorovas is an extremely tough veteran. In March of last year I watched him give contender Bryan Vera all he could handle before finally losing on cuts in Round 7.
Monroe used a crisp jab and great movement to control range and dictate the fight against Bondorovas, handling him with far more ease than Vera did. And Vera parlayed that win into two major fights with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Monroe’s only professional loss came in March 2011 to the enigmatic Darnell Boone, probably the best fighter on the planet with a losing record. Boone is the only man to beat current lineal light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson. He’s the only man to knock down pound-for-pound superstar Andre Ward.
“That guy is a world-champion quality guy,” Monroe said. “Anybody who can knockdown and beat somebody like Adonis Stevenson is a great fighter. He put Andre Ward, the number two pound-for-pound guy on the planet, on his ass.”
Following the setback, Monroe signed a new management contract with Damian Walton and D3 promotions in 2012. He has rebounded strongly, winning six straight and picking up a couple of minor titles in 2013.
At 27, Monroe is now poised to have a breakout year and put himself on the map in boxing. In the fight game, timing and opportunity can play as big of a role in success as pure talent, and the third-generation fighter realizes this. “Patience truly is a virtue in boxing,” said Monroe. “My nickname is the Mongoose and that’s what I try to be like. I want to just stay trained up and ready, so when the moment is right I can strike.”