This is a family business for the Monroes. We get that, fathers following the footsteps of sons, taking over the pizza shop when dad gets old, or being expected to follow the same path, get that law degree, and complying, maybe against a part of one's will.
Willie Monroe Jr., the New York native who knew from age six he wanted to be a boxer, who entered the family biz with no ambivalence, received the news he longed for, that he would be receiving the opportunity of a lifetime on May 16.
Now, that news. I characterize it as “the opportunity of a lifetime,” but I confess, when I hear about anyone getting the chance to fight Gennady Golovkin, as Monroe will on May 16, at the Forum in LA, and on HBO, I tend to have this reaction, just a tad anyway: some opportunity!
Careful what you ask for, you just might get it!
Yep, Golovkin is a smiling assassin, but assassin he is. He is there to do a job on fight night, and that is to make you submit. Mentally, physically, neurologically he wants to damage you. He's not the sort who wants to admit that to the world, make it so public that that is the plan. He cloaks the severity of the mission, the coldness, with his delightfully mangled terminology, and terminally adorable grin. The grin signals benevolence while the fists scream the opposite..
“Good drama show” and the ilk, that's the amusing soundbite stuff we lap up, alongside the heaping portions of controlled violence.
I asked Monroe, a 28-year-old with a 19-1 (just 6 KOs) record, how he felt when he got the “good,” I mean good, news.
“On top of the world,” he told me, via phone, from an LA hotel room, the day before his announcement presser to hype the clash. He got a text from promoter Arthur Pelullo, he said. “I was half asleep, but I was pretty happy!” The gig was supposed to go to Tureano Johnson, then Jorge Heiland, but Team Golovkin settled on Monroe because 1) he was willing and 2) he's a lefty, and they want GGG to get a look at that and 3) he's known to some boxing fans, from winning the middleweight tournament “Boxcino,” which runs on ESPN.
Monroe told Pelullo great, I've been in the gym, working hard, for weeks now. Let's do it. Monroe said he was psyched, and relieved, to get that big shot opportunity. He knows his great uncle Willie “the Worm” Monroe didn't really, truly get that big shot opportunity. He knows his dad, Willie Sr–who he didn't spend all that much time with growing up, he lived with his grandpa Lee Monroe mostly–didn't get that BIG SHOT. Getting the opportunity, he knows, is maybe half the battle. Now it's up to him. He's known, he said, since he was around six years old that the ring would be his thing. Same as it was for his great grandfather, who was a fighter, on up the chain. “I knew it was what I wanted to do,” he said.
Yes, he's watched some YouTube of the Worm in action, but is more prone to brush up on some Roy Jones Jr., Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather, guys like that. And does he fight at all like unc? “He had that hit and don't get hit style. Worked on the outside. In my family, we got a good, solid jab. We are known for good, technically smart boxing.”
I did wonder if there is any element of competitiveness in Junior, being that Senior wasn't around too much. Is he a better boxer than his dad? “I don't let myself compete in that way,” he told me. Though, he allows, the thought has maybe crossed his mind once or twice, as he has sparred with dad in the way that the Jones have, the Mayweathers have.
J. Russell Peltz, the Philly-based promoter who has a place in the Hall of Fame, told me he thinks Golovkin is a beast among men, and anyone would have a tall hill to climb to beat him. “I haven't seen that much of Monroe Junior,” he told me from Florida, where he escapes the arctic blast. “But none of the Monroes are as good as the original, Willie “the Worm.” None have fought his level of opposition. And if he never got that “title shot opportunity,” remember, there wasn't a title on every corner in those days. He was certainly ranked in the top ten in a time when it certainly meant something. But Golovkin looks like he's in a league of his own among today's generation of middleweights, and that includes Peter Quillin and Danny Jacobs. But you never turn down a title shot. Can Junior beat Golovkin, no I don't think so, no one active at 160 today can.”
Oh, and for the record. That fight that saw The Worm beat Marvin Hagler. Junior won't be watching it on YouTube…or anywhere. “There was a snowstorm that day, and the the film crew never made it. But every round was a war. The Worm was the only guy that truly beat Hagler.”
Now, Junior isn't known for his pop, but he can belt, and has been active in his church, wowing those in the pew with his vocal chops. That spiritual foundation comes in quite handy when he looks to climb a higher mountain, as Golovkin is, he told me. Junior was on a men's retreat, for 48 hours, when the fight got announced, and he said it was a bit of a blessing, as no phones were allowed, so he dind't have to face a ringing blitz.
Hey, does he have any fear of the big bomber GGG? He gets butterflies before every fight, and wouldn't want it any other way, he told me. But, he noted, the Tysons, Foremans and Listons all had a certain aura of power and invincibility too…..”I'm not going to let butterflies deter me from being the most complete Willie Monroe Junior.”
Course, wowing Boxcino watchers or those in the pews at church is one thing; those in attendance at the Forum and on HBO with the patient predator Golovkin boring in on him, that's a different deal. Those that think Monroe will be the first to smudge Golovkins' record are in the minority, and mostly fall into the family and friends category. That's OK, he isn't put off by that. Fighters, they aren't like us, quite often. History, they don't as often as us assume, isn't the best predictor of the future. Monroe figures he has the slickness, the pure technical ability, to give Golovkin fits come May 16. Plus, he's bolstered by a deep faith, he told, as he's been a Christian and grounded in that for as long as he can remember. Do I think it'll happen? No. But have stranger things happened? Sure, this is the boxing business, strange is the default setting, by and large. We shall have to see how this worm turns..
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