When Willie Monroe Jr steps into the ring with the fearsome Gennady Golovkin Saturday night on HBO, he's not supposed to win. He's there to be a victim, the 33rd line on Golovkin's resume, the 20th knockout victim in a row for a fighter being built into an icon.
This is hardly a secret among boxing fans. It's less a reflection on Monroe and more a testament to Golvokin's growing reputation as one of the very best fighters in the world. According to Odds Shark, the line on Golovkin sits at an absurd minus-4500, meaning you'd need to risk $4,500 just to win a single Ben Franklin.
Monroe, of course, knows this too. But that doesn't mean the brash upstart from New York is buying it. Instead, he seems to relish his position as the purported victim.
Overlooking him? Good. Taking him lightly? Even better. He's not, he says, just happy to be here. He's coming to show the world, and Golovkin, exactly what he can do.
"I've been the underdog for a long time," Monroe told Bleacher Report. "I've had the odds stacked against me for a long time. It's been the story of my life since I was conceived in the womb. Mine is the story of many inner-city kids. It's been a fight from the start.
"My mother, when she was carrying me, did a lot of things that a mother shouldn't do when they're carrying a kid. I almost didn't make it here. But I'm here. Before you can even mentally comprehend it, spiritually you make a decision about whether you're going to be here or not. I said 'I'm going to be here.' And I'm here."
Monroe was propelled to this opportunity on the strength of his star turn in last year's Boxcino tournament. Broadcast on ESPN's Friday Night Fights, the eight-man middleweight tournament was a throwback to boxing's old days. To walk away with the crown, Monroe had to win three fights in just three months.
Some might have been overwhelmed by the constant action, uncomfortable with the gym's becoming a permanent home. But Monroe, whose father and great uncle, both also Willie Monroes, were professional prizefighters, was born to compete.
"It was actually what I like," he said. "Staying busy and being able to do what I do on the regular. Which is kick ass. Excuse my French."
It's that spirit, he believes, that will see him through a fight with Golovkin, the amateur standout with thudding power, the most feared man in boxing. Those, Monroe believes, are just words. And words, powerful as they can be, don't hurt.
"I've been doing this too long to let someone's persona beat me before I get a chance to actually step in the ring with him," Monroe said. "You hear what I'm saying? Look—I'm a firm believer in God. I've been through harder things in life, and God has brought me through. So why wouldn't he bring me through this one? Why should this be any different? One of the hardest things I've ever experienced in my life was losing my grandfather in 2013. I'm not scared of anything."
But while belief can power a fighter, making him capable of deeds otherwise unimaginable, it isn't in itself a cogent strategy for success. Here, trainer Tony Morgan fills in some of the details.
|By the Numbers: Willie Monroe Jr.|
|Record||19-1, 6 KO|
"We’re going to go through and do what we do, and put the pieces of the puzzle together, and solve the puzzle that nobody seems to be able to do," Morgan told the press in a media call. "I think the fight will truly be won by ring intelligence. I think what we bring to the table is something Gennady’s never seen and realistically can’t prepare for. I mean, there’s really only one Willie Monroe. There’s two guys, maybe three that mimic his style that is very fast, very elusive."
Described almost ubiquitously as a "slick southpaw," Monroe sees himself as next in a long line of defensive stylists that includes Charley Burley, Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather Jr. When speed and power collide, he believes, speed has the natural advantage.
"Boxing right now, it's sad. It's full of biological androids. Everybody wants to be rock-'em-sock-'em" Monroe said. "They forget they have feet. They forget that they have head movement. That they have other elements of defense. This is what makes Floyd Mayweather so great—he's like the last of the Mohicans.
"People automatically think when two opposing forces collide, the stronger force is going to win. That this is an easy bet. But what happens when the stronger force is going at something and it's not there? You've had 32 fights of swinging at targets that were there to be hit. What happens after six rounds of swinging at a target that's not there? And when he makes you miss, he's making you pay with five or six counters?"
There's confidence in Monroe's voice, but also a hint of defiance. Maybe even sadness. To win this fight, he'll need to echo Mayweather's game plan. That, though successful, isn't always popular. If Monroe is to pull off the upset, he'll need to do it in a style that will make him the most hated man in the sport.
He's already crafted his defense.
"I'm going to hit you, and I'm going to make it incredibly difficult for you to hit me," he said. "That doesn't mean I'm scared. That means I'm smart. When you watch football, do they say 'OK, I scored. Now I'm going to let you score so I can score again. I'll score and then you'll score and we'll see who looks better scoring?'
"No. I'm going to score a touchdown, and when it's your turn, I'm going to play defense to stop you from scoring. That's sport. That's how competition works."