The 2014 Boxcino middleweight tournament enters the semifinal round on Friday with a pair of bouts headlining ESPN's "Friday Night Fights."
The two eight-round semifinal bouts will take place from the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, N.Y. (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET), the same site as the finals on May 23 for both the middleweight and lightweight brackets.
Vitalii Kopylenko (23-0, 13 KOs) vs. Willie Monroe Jr. (16-1, 6 KOs)
Kopylenko, 30, the unbeaten fighter out of Ukraine, is coming off a second-round stoppage of Cerresso Fort in the tournament's quarterfinal round. On that same Feb. 28 card in Hammond, Ind., Monroe, a southpaw, won a unanimous decision over Donatas Bondorovas of Lithuania.
In a fight that also doubled as his U.S. debut, Kopylenko made the biggest impression among the four semifinalists by dominating Fort with power shots and twice sending him to the canvas before referee Kurt Spivey stopped the bout less than one minute into the second round. Kopylenko showed consistent punching power and positioned himself as the favorite to take the Boxcino 2014 belt, but he still has a difficult challenge ahead.
"Monroe is a very good fighter," Kopylenko said. "He has good movement and fine skills, but we have a good plan to defeat him."
Monroe, born into a renowned family of fighters, seems to be enjoying the best stretch of his career. He has won his last six fights, and on Friday he intends to further his winning streak.
"Willie has trained hard for this fight. He has worked with taller sparring partners [to prepare] for Kopylenko," said Monroe's manager, Damian Walton. "We respect his resumé and his unbeaten record, but I don't think he has ever faced anyone of Willie's level."
The fight promises to be a clash of styles. Monroe is a good technical fighter with speed and quick footwork who is difficult to hit. However, he lacks knockout power, and against a power puncher like Kopylenko, this could be dangerous. The Ukrainian fighter has a powerful jab and a longer reach and is expected to be the more aggressive fighter.
Brandon Adams (13-0, 9 KOs) vs. Raymond Gatica (14-2, 9 KOs)
Adams, 24, a power puncher, is fresh off a fourth-round TKO win over Daniel Edouard in the Boxcino quarterfinals. Adams will be facing a southpaw, which doesn't seem to bother him.
"It will be the first time I face a southpaw, but I've worked hard at my camp with opponents of similar guard and I've felt very comfortable," Adams said. "It hasn't been a problem and I feel confident for this fight."
Gatica, 30, of Austin, Tex., is coming off a stoppage win against previously unbeaten Sena Agbeko of Ghana. Agbeko entered the bout with 15 wins -- all by knockout -- in as many bouts before Gatica forced the fourth-round TKO. Gatica's manager, Dave Watson, feels confident that his protégé will defeat Adams and even imagines who his next opponent will be.
"Ray has really prepared himself in defense and speed to keep the same pace throughout the eight rounds," Watson said. "Adams is a different opponent -- shorter and well-built. So we'll have another game plan. I see Ray in the final, and I think it will be against [Kopylenko].".
Beyond the prevailing confidence in both camps, this semifinal bout appears to be even. It's a clash of two aggressive fighters with good punching power. Adams could be the one to set the pace early with heavy pressure, while Gatica, who has good leg movement, will look to avoid the exchange and try to overcome his opponent with technique and better experience.