There is no easy road to boxing stardom. Even for prospects with all the physical tools, professional connections and sterling amateur careers, there is nothing but hard work ahead.
Willie Monroe Jr. provides a vivid case study. The middleweight contender reached the National Golden Gloves finals in 2007 and the semi-finals of the Olympic trials in 2008. He turned pro in March 2008 and won his first 10 fights.
In March 2011, he hit his first professional road block, against the enigmatic journeyman Darnell Boone. It was not a great case of matchmaking. Monroe is a small middleweight who could probably make 154 pounds. Boone fights at super middleweight and light heavyweight.
Beyond that, Boone is a far better boxer than his .500 record would seem to indicate. He is very likely the most talented .500 fighter in the world today. He holds a win over lineal light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson. He is the only man to knockdown Andre Ward as a pro and took Sergey Kovalev to a split decision.
Monroe was one of 21 undefeated opponents Boone has faced in his career, nearly half of his total. Monroe faded late against him and lost an eight-round split decision in March 2011.
Monroe spent 2012 and 2013 fighting club-level opposition before entering 2014’s Boxcino middleweight tournament. It provided him a nice showcase on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights. He won back-to-back decisions over two very good international fighters in Donatas Bondorovas and Vitaliy Kopylenko. In the finals, he shutout previously unbeaten Brandon Adams.
Monroe followed that with a terrific win over contender Bryan Vera. That win gave Monroe a shot at world champion Gennady Golovkin.
Against GGG, Monroe fared about as well as everybody else. He survived a brutal Round 2, in which he got dropped twice, made a brief gutsy recovery, and then was stopped in Round 6.
After losing to Golovkin, he took off 13 months and returned with a nice victory over John Thompson, a former world-title challenger. It was the kind of victory that kept him relevant.
Last Staurday night, he picked up what is probably the biggest win of his career, on the Canelo Alvarez pay-per-view. Fighting in front of 50 thousand fans, he displayed a terrific jab and controlled the pace against a tough veteran in Gabriel Rosado, to win a one-sided decision.
The win will definitely keep Monroe’s name in the conversation for a truly big fight, at either 154 or 160 pounds. I would have no interest in seeing him in a rematch with Golovkin and can’t view him as truly elite. But at 29, he should remain a factor for at least the next few years.