by Fox Doucette
2014 middleweight Boxcino champion and ranked contender by the WBA and WBO, Willie Monroe Jr. (19-1, 6 KOs) continued his rise at 160 pounds, putting on a boxing clinic while beating gatekeeper Bryan Vera (23-9, 14 KOs) in the main event of ESPN2 Friday Night Fights. In the co-feature, runner-up in that same middleweight tournament Brandon Adams (15-1, 10 KOs) took care of business, beating the snot out of Lekan Byfield (6-7-2, 1 KO), dropping the Jamaican three times in the process. There was even a scheduled swing fight, a four-rounder in which Greg Jackson (4-1-1, 2 KOs) showed the heart of a lion in coming off the floor to knock out Cornelius Whitlock (3-2-2, 2 KOs) in the third round of a scheduled four-rounder.
The main event offered the most to analyze, and it was a curious case of a slow start for Willie Monroe. Bryan Vera’s game plan relied heavily on the fact that Monroe is not a big puncher, and Vera walked fearlessly through Monroe’s jab early to set up on the inside and start chucking leather. For the first four rounds, the fight was fairly close, with judging coming down to whether the observer thought Vera’s aggression and imposition of his superior size and power was enough to overcome the fact that he was eating a lot of jabs on the way in.
Trouble was, early on, Monroe wasn’t making Vera “eat” the jabs so much as he was letting Vera nibble on the jabs like a squirrel eating a nut at the park on a summer day. If you’re going to make your opponent eat the jab, you’ve got to stuff it down the guy’s throat.
By the fifth round, Monroe had figured that out, and a punch that caught Vera on the way in staggered the veteran, scoring a knockdown when Vera’s glove touched the canvas. The crowd howled and Vera himself was furious at what he thought was a bum call, but later in the fifth Monroe legitimately hurt Vera and put an end for the rest of the fight to Vera coming in with his hands down and without regard for the power of the man in front of him.
From then on, it was academic, with none of the last five rounds being anything even resembling close. The final scores were 98-91, 97-92, 99-90, with your columnist scoring it 98-91 and Teddy Atlas giving it 100-90 (with the third round even), all to your winner, by unanimous decision and still daughter of the Fifth House, holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, and heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed, or whatever silly titles were at stake, Willie Monroe Jr.
Now then…what to say of the co-feature? A guy who had been planned to stomp a schmo off-camera got his chance to stomp the schmo on-camera after Hammerin’ Hank Lundy not only failed to make weight, but scoffed at the scale by drinking water rather than even so much as trying to get down to 135 pounds. Petr Petrov’s camp wisely ditched out on the fight, not wanting their man in with a guy who was going to be bigger and meaner from an unfair advantage on fight night, and the opening was created.
Brandon Adams got his schmo, and with three knockdowns and a massive skill gap on display, disposed of Lekan Byfield. For all of that, this fight was still instructive. Too often, a guy with a big record will get in against a hobo and have too much trouble getting rid of the guy, leaving serious questions about his finishing ability. In this case, the bouncer put the bum out on the street quickly, efficiently, and exactly the way he was supposed to. There was no M. Night Shyamalan ending here. This went chalk.
Finally, the opening blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bout featured Teddy Atlas comparing Greg Jackson to Arturo Gatti after Cornelius Whitlock absolutely clocked him with a straight punch that looked like it was going to close the show. Not only did Jackson get up and get his feet under him, he went about his business to the point where he had recovered from the punch by the end of the round and had started to re-assert himself offensively rather than simply trying to survive. It is overstating the point to compare Jackson to Gatti in, say, round nine of the first fight with Micky Ward, but a better comparison might be to Hammerin’ Hank Lundy in the David Diaz fight on ESPN2 in August of 2012. Lundy went down in Round 4 of that fight, rose from the canvas, and administered a gory beatdown that led to a stoppage victory on cuts two rounds later.
For his part, Greg Jackson closed the show in the third round of a four-rounder, the sort of distance where one knockdown may as well be a knockout for how far behind the 8-ball it puts someone on the cards. When the social media arm of the FNF show asked fans if they want to see Jackson again, your columnist was among those enthusiastic to see more of the guy as his career progresses. Let’s hope the folks at ESPN2 can find a way to get this guy some checks.
Friday Night Fights is off next week, but returns on January 30 from Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, CT, right down the road from ESPN World HQ in Bristol. Tony Luis (18-2, 7 KOs) takes on unbeaten but untested Karl Dargan (17-0, 9 KOs), who is taking his exam to graduate from the hobo circuit on national television. In the co-feature, Russell Lamour (11-0, 5 KOs) takes on Thomas Falowo (12-3, 8 KOs), who has so far beaten up bums and lost to anyone who shows even a semblance of actual ability to fight. The Boxing Tribune will have full preview and recap coverage of this show, and any swing fights that make air on the broadcast. Keep it here—we’re the worldwide leader in covering the Worldwide Leader.
Fox Doucette writes the weekly What If series and covers ESPN Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly opinion column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Fan mail, hate mail, and job offers to join ESPN’s fight writer team can be sent to email@example.com.