By Kieran Mulvaney
Plenty of professional prizefighters come from a familial tradition of boxing. Floyd Mayweather is the most prominent recent example: the son of a solid pugilist, the nephew of a world champion, and better and vastly more successful than either of them. Few, however, have been steeped in generations of the sweet science to the extent of Willie Monroe Jr., the descendant of black Cubans who transplanted to Florida.
His great-uncle, Willie “The Worm” Monroe, famously beat a young Marvin Hagler before losing to him twice, but the reach extends farther back in time than that.
“My grandfather would tell me stories about how, growing up in the south, he and his father would walk for miles to stand outside a white man’s house to listen to the fights on a radio,” Monroe told a small group of reporters on Tuesday in Los Angeles. The fighters that they loved, unsurprisingly, were mostly Cubans – the likes of Kid Chocolate and Kid Gavilan – who fought in the Cuban tradition of “hit but don’t get hit.” It was in that same tradition they schooled the youngster who, now at 28 years old and with a record of 19-1, is set to challenge Gennady Golovkin for a middleweight title at the Forum in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Dubbing himself a “stylistic enigma,” the elusive southpaw believes the boxing adage that "styles make fights" works to his advantage against the formidable Golovkin – whom, he believes, will struggle to combat his sleek footwork, lateral movement, and southpaw jab. In contrast, while keen to pay tribute to the champion’s skills, experience, and achievements, he insists he’s had good preparation for what the Kazakh-born California resident has in store, in the form of the opponents he defeated to win ESPN’s middleweight Boxcino tournament last year.
“Every single fighter had a similarity to Gennady,” he asserted. “The first guy, [Donatas] Bondorovas, was very strong, came straight forward, and I outboxed him. Then we had Vitaly Kopylenko; he has that European style. He’s a little taller than me: 6’0”, 6’1”. He’s measured and very smart like Triple G, but I was able to take that away from him. Then we have Brandon Adams, who was a little more explosive and quick on the inside like Triple G, and I was able to take that from him.” Finally, earlier this year, he outpointed former Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. foe Brian Vera – “an all-out brawler who just likes to bring it, and I was able to win that. So I think my last four fights have been very intricate in preparing for this kind of fight.”
Indeed, he considers himself such a nightmare style matchup for Golovkin, that he says the GGG camp only agreed to face him after other mooted opponents such as Tureano Johnson or Sebastian Heiland fell through for various reasons.
“A lot of people try to play on my mind: ‘You’re in there with a big puncher,’” he said. “No, no, no, no, no. Trust me. I knew right from the outset that he didn’t want to fight me – well, maybe Gennady wanted to fight me, but his team didn’t.”
Unsurprisingly, his self-confidence is not shared by the great majority of neutral observers, but Monroe insists that’s OK with him:
“I’ve been an underdog for a very long time. In Boxcino, I was the underdog for every fight. Every fight that I wasn’t supposed to win, was a fight that I made look the easiest.”
So does he feel that on Sunday he will have claimed the family bragging rights? That instead of he being the great-nephew of the man who beat Hagler, henceforth Willie the Worm will come to be known as the great-uncle of the man who beat Gennady Golovkin?
“Yeah,” he laughed. “I like that.”