Veteran Bryan Vera promises to be a nuisance for 2014 Boxcino middleweight tournament winner Willie Monroe Jr. when they collide on Friday at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York.
The 10-round bout is the main event of this week's "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET), and given the contrast in styles between the brawling Vera and the technical ability of Monroe, it should be an exciting bout.
Vera (23-8, 14 KOs), a native of Texas, has been on both the winning and losing end of some epic bouts against top-level opponents, including a pair of competitive defeats in his last two bouts against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Monroe (18-1, 6 KOs) made a name for himself in 2014 with impressive decision wins over Donatas Bondorovas, Vitaliy Kopylenko and Brandon Adams in the Boxcino middleweight tournament. The victories improved Monroe to 8-0 since his lone defeat, a split decision against Darnell Boone in 2011.
A victory on Friday against a tough, experienced opponent in Vera would likely vault Monroe into recognition as a serious contender in the middleweight division.
"This will tell us if we deserve the third-place WBA ranking," said Monroe's manager, Damian Walton.
Walton acknowledges that it won't be an easy fight for his fighter against an opponent in Vera who is no stranger to playing the spoiler role.
"Bryan Vera is a difficult opponent," Walton said. "He's a tough guy who isn't afraid of anybody, and he needs to win this fight no matter what. Bryan [Vera] is in a downward spiral in his career, and a victory will put him back on the path to big things. That's why we have a lot of respect for him, and we thank him for accepting this fight."
Monroe enters the fight as the favorite because of both his recent success and the great expectations that accompany him. But fans will have their eyes on whether Vera can test the young fighter, especially after the veteran appeared to raise his game during his first fight with Chavez -- a split-decision loss that many felt he had won.
Vera also owns an upset win over current middleweight titlist Andy Lee along with a pair of victories over fellow "The Contender" alum Sergio Mora. He also earned a hard-fought TKO against former junior middleweight titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk in 2013.
Last August, Vera took part in the first event of fighting promotion Big Knockout Boxing, which is contested in a pit instead of a ring. Vera was stopped in the sixth round against Gabriel Rosado, but the result doesn't affect his boxing record.
Following the fight, Vera acknowledged he looked bad and his manager, Dave Watson, admitted he thought accepting the fight had been a mistake. However, Vera appears to have recovered, and his preparation for this Friday’s fight seems to back that up.
"Before finishing his preparation in Texas, Bryan spent four weeks training in Montreal and sparred 50 to 60 rounds with sparring partner Jean Pascal," Watson said.
Regardless, Watson was cautious when referring to Monroe.
"We're definitely not taking this lightly," Watson said. "He has two [regional] belts, and there's a reason why he won the [Boxcino] tournament. He has a lot to lose and a lot to gain, and I think that all fights at this level are difficult. Like I always say to Bryan, 'There are easier fights.'"
A member of a boxing family, Monroe is a quick opponent with good technique who moves well and hits accurately, despite owning just six knockouts in 19 fights. Against Vera, he'll need to pay attention to defense because Vera adapts well and puts constant pressure on opponents, along with having respectable power to finish the job.
Vera will look to close the distance, unleashing bursts inside and out, trying to harm his opponent with power punches. Monroe, meanwhile, will move around the ring and punch from angles or with quick combinations. Monroe will avoid direct confrontation and focus on a decision win.