- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Willie Monroe Jr. convincingly won all three of his bouts en route to winning the 2014 Boxcino middleweight tournament -- unanimous decisions against Donatas Bondorovas (six rounds in February), Vitaliy Kopylenko (8 rounds in April) and Brandon Adams in the final (10 rounds in May).
As solid as those victories were, none came against a well-known opponent. But when Monroe fights for the first time since winning the Boxcino tournament, he will be taking a step up in the level of the competition he has faced: battle-tested Bryan Vera.
Vera has split a pair of fights with Andy Lee (who later won a world title) and beaten former junior middleweight titlist Sergio Mora, and although Vera lost two decisions to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the first result was highly controversial.
In other words, Monroe is taking on a very good and experienced fighter when they meet in a 10-round bout on this week’s “Friday Night Fights” (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York.
"This fight is a step up," Monroe said.
Monroe (18-1, 6 KOs), a 28-year-old southpaw from Rochester, New York, is aware of the experience Vera has and understands that if he wants to move closer to facing elite competition and perhaps earning a title shot, it’s a fight that he needs to win.
"We are looking forward to the fight with Bryan Vera. We have a great deal of respect for Bryan and his style of fighting,” Monroe said. “He is a world class fighter and if Willie Monroe Jr. deserves to be at the top of the middleweight division, come (Friday) we will defeat Bryan Vera.
"Vera has fought a lot of top contenders. A fight like this will show the boxing world that I belong at the top of the middleweight division.”
Said Damien Walton, Monroe’s manager, “I think Willie is very motivated and in great shape for this fight. I think he's got his work cut out for him in Bryan Vera.”
Officially, Vera (23-8, 14 KOs), 33, of Austin, Texas, has lost his last two fights, both to Chavez, but he also suffered a sixth-round knockout to Gabriel Rosado in August in a Big Knockout Boxing bout, which does not officially appear on his record because if was fought in a “pit” instead of a ring.
So Vera knows how important a win is also. He doesn’t want to be officially 0-3 in his last three bouts and 0-4 in reality.
"This is another opportunity to reinvent myself like I have done many times before,” Vera said. “I'm coming prepared and focused to get the job done. All business here. Coming to work Be prepared to see me do what has to be done. Look forward to another exciting fight.”