Middleweight contender Willie Monroe Jr. couldn't care less if he is a massive long shot going into his world title challenge against the fearsome Gennady Golovkin, who is looking to make him his 20th knockout victim in a row.
"I've been an underdog my whole life, so this is nothing new to me," Monroe said at Tuesday's final news conference ahead of the fight on Saturday (HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT) at the Forum in Inglewood, California.
And an underdog he is, but an undeterred one.
"I called Willie and I said, do you want the fight and he said: '100 percent. I'm going to win,'" said Banner Promotions CEO Artie Pelullo, Monroe's promoter, recounting the call he made to him when the fight was offered a few months ago.
Said Monroe: "This is the fight I asked for. When all the blogs and different interviews, they asked me what middleweight would you like to fight? I said Gennady Golovkin. I mean, he's the best. So, you either go hard or go home."
Golovkin, who will be making his 14th title defense, has been terrorizing the middleweight division, scoring one giant knockout after another as he has stayed active against the best possible opponents willing to get into the ring with him. Of course, Golovkin, one of boxing's rising stars, would like a big-time pay-per-view fight against the likes of champion Miguel Cotto or superstar Canelo Alvarez.
He would even be willing to fight at super middleweight against Carl Froch or even to drop down to junior middleweight if Floyd Mayweather was interested. But none of them have expressed much interest in fighting him now, although Alvarez has said it is a fight he would like in the future.
"We commend Willie Monroe Jr. for accepting the challenge of fighting Gennady, which many other contenders and even titleholders are unwilling to even consider," said Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions, Golovkin's promoter. "Willie Monroe poses a very unconventional style with his southpaw stance and his movement in the ring, so I think this will be a great contrast to styles."
Monroe, to his credit, was the one opponent who raised his hand and almost gleefully accepted the challenge of facing Golovkin (32-0, 29 KOs), 33, of Kazakhstan and now living in Los Angeles.
"Being an underdog is what I relish because those are the moments where I rise to the occasion," said Monroe, the nephew of 1970s middleweight contender Willie "The Worm" Monroe. "Sometimes I surprise myself with how good I do, so I'm in my element. If I was the favorite, then I'd be a little worried. But being the underdog is what I actually relish because it motivates me to do what I need to do.
"Everybody's different. Some people need to be encouraged and told that they're the best, to be the best, and some people need to be told that you can't do it, so they can go out there and prove that they can. And I'm one of those people that's always looking to prove people wrong."
In the co-feature, 27-year-old flyweight world champion Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez (42-0, 36 KOs), a former strawweight and junior flyweight titleholder from Nicaragua, will make his much-anticipated HBO debut when he squares off with Mexico's Edgar Sosa (51-8, 30 KOs). Sosa, 35, is a former junior flyweight titleholder.
Monroe (19-1, 6 KOs), 28, of Rochester, New York, had something of a breakout year in 2014 to put himself in position for a world title fight. He impressively rolled through the eight-man, single-elimination ESPN Boxcino middleweight tournament, winning all three of his fights by unanimous decision. First, it was a lopsided six-round win against Donatas Bondorovas in the quarterfinals. Then he scored a clear eight-round decision against then-undefeated Vitaliy Kopylenko in the semifinals, followed by a near-shutout of Brandon Adams, who was also undefeated when they met, in the final last May.
Monroe followed up his Boxcino run by returning in January for another near-shutout, 10-round decision win against fringe contender Bryan Vera, who has faced several top opponents, including former middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (twice), former junior middleweight titlist Sergio Mora and Andy Lee (twice), who went on to win a middleweight title.
"It's been a long road for me to get here," said Monroe, who counts Roy Jones Jr. and Sugar Ray Leonard as his favorite boxers. "I won the Boxcino tournament, I beat Vera and I'm ready for the challenge of the best middleweight in the world.
"He has proven himself and he's widely known as the best middleweight out there, so you can't argue with it. And, obviously, I'm up there around No. 2 or 3, so that's why I'm thankful for this fight. So, I can't chop the man down. I won't sit up here and chop him down because once I win, then I'll be chopping myself."
Said Pelullo: "We are extremely happy for Willie. He has worked very hard, and he got this opportunity the old-fashioned way. He earned it. To win the 2014 Boxcino tournament shows that when fighters take risks in their career, and they are willing to fight quality fighters, great things come from it."
Pelullo said he is confident in Monroe's ability to pull the upset even though he plainly said that Golovkin is the best middleweight in the world.
"It's a fight that we believe we can win," Pelullo said. "Most people don't think Willie can win the fight, but we do; that's why we took it. And it's going to be a terrific fight, and I think Gennady is going to be in for a very difficult fight with a very good fighter who can do things that nobody who has fought Gennady has done before."
Monroe, underdog or not, said he will make the most of his most unexpected opportunity.
"I will shock the world," he said. "I think this is an awesome fight. We have two contrasting styles and that will make for some spontaneous combustion. We will see which style comes out on top."