By Thomas Gerbasi
For most boxers, fighting at Madison Square Garden is the Holy Grail, the destination they’ve been looking to reach since they first put on the gloves. For Seanie Monaghan, it’s simply home.
“I don’t really think about the venue too much,” said the Long Islander, who is back in the MSG Theater this Saturday to face veteran Matt Vanda on the Mikey Garcia-Juan Carlos Burgos undercard. “I’m very comfortable in Madison Square Garden and I think it’s more of a comfort thing than a ‘wow, I’m fighting in Madison Square Garden thing’ at this point. It feels like I’m fighting at home. This is going to be my sixth time fighting in the Garden, including the Golden Gloves, so I’m totally at ease right now. My weight is good, I’m in really, really good shape, I’m confident, and I’m ready to go.”
The unbeaten (19-0, 12 KOs) Monaghan approaches pretty much everything in his career with the same quiet confidence. Nothing fazes him too much, in or out of the ring, and that goes for the lead-up to this weekend’s bout as well, as a late change of opponent did nothing to throw him off from the task at hand, which is to keep winning, no matter who stands across the ring from him.
“I give him (Vanda) a lot of respect for stepping up to the plate because we had a big runaround as far as opponents go,” he said. “We had a really good guy (Brazil’s Fabio Garrido), 28-4 with 24 knockouts. He was the original guy I was supposed to fight and he couldn’t get a visa in time. Then they started looking around for other guys and I got turned down by about five or six pretty well-known guys that didn’t want to fight me. And we were in a bit of a jam, but then (Top Rank’s) Brad Goodman called up and said that Matt Vanda would take the fight. He’s a tough guy, he’s got 60 fights and he’s obviously not scared to fight anybody. I’m a light heavyweight and he really fights at super middleweight, and even middleweight before that. So he’s got some balls.”
The 35-year-old Vanda isn’t the type of opponent that will skyrocket Monaghan up the light heavyweight rankings, but he will give him a fight and some rounds. Unfortunately, it will also lead the critics to come out and question whether the New Yorker is truly ready for prime time. Again, it’s not something that fazes him.
“I know what I’m capable of, and all the top boxers in New York that all know me and who have been in the ring with me, they know that I’m completely serious, and the time’s going to come when they’re all gonna see it,” he said. “They’re gonna put me in a fight with a guy who they think is a huge favorite, I’ll be the underdog, and I’m gonna smash him like I did everybody else and they’re finally gonna say ‘oh wow, maybe we were wrong.’”
Then they’ll find something else to complain about; that’s what critics do. But despite his late start in the sport, those who have followed the 32-year-old’s career closely can see that Monaghan’s raw talent is getting more refined and that there is genuine improvement as he moves up the ranks. Most notable may be his official Top Rank debut last October, where he took just three rounds to blast out Anthony Smith. But the way Monaghan sees it, the win did little to improve his standing on the world stage in the eyes of some.
“Anthony Smith had a good looking record and I kind of ran through him, but I still think there are a lot of doubters out there,” he said. “But honestly, it doesn’t even bother me at all. I get my respect where it matters, and that’s from other fighters. And all these other people that don’t really know anything about me, and all these skeptics, that’s fine because when the time comes I’m gonna show them.”
Monaghan’s champing at the bit to get that big shot, and while the initial plan when he signed with Top Rank was to go after WBA titleholder Beibut Shumenov, with Shumenov signed with Golden Boy and the promotional cold war still going on, those plans have hit a momentary roadblock. Monaghan is ranked number six in the IBF, but again, champion Bernard Hopkins is a Golden Boy fighter. That leaves the two most exciting 175-pounders in the game, WBC champ Adonis Stevenson and WBO boss Sergey Kovalev.
“The light heavyweight division right now is extremely dangerous and there are a lot of good fights out there,” he said. “I’m sure he (Shumenov) is a tough fighter, but he was definitely a soft spot in the division and we were hoping to get a shot at him, but that’s over now. So it looks like we’re gonna have to take it from one of the big dogs.”
Those big dogs being Stevenson and Kovalev, who aren’t just exciting, but feared. Monaghan isn’t scared.
“Not at all, whoever it is it is,” he said. “The reason Shumenov came up was because I was ranked number ten in the WBA. I’d fight Bernard (Hopkins). I’m number 12 in the WBC, which is Adonis Stevenson, who I would also like to fight. And then the most dangerous guy is Kovalev, and for some reason I’m not even ranked in the WBO, but who knows, maybe after this fight I will be. It’s pretty mysterious the way the rankings work. (Laughs) But I’d be open to fighting anyone in there. I’m not scared of Kovalev or Stevenson. I think Kovalev is the most dangerous of all of them and I think he would beat Stevenson and knock him out pretty quick. But he ain’t knocking me out quick, and I’m not just trying to talk like a tough guy, but I would definitely get in the ring with any one of them any time.”
You believe him, and that may be why Monaghan is one of the most popular competitors in the New York area. And that’s not just a marketing hook. He is a legit ticket seller, and leading up to the Vanda fight, he says this will be the “best one ever. We’ve been sold out already for about a week.”
That means Monaghan has personally sold around 800 tickets, with several out of town groups buying their own and making the trek to the Big Apple this weekend. He estimates that there will be “at least a thousand people there just for me,” and if Top Rank has more tickets for him, he will likely get rid of those quick as well. So what is it about Monaghan that can get people to reach into their pockets in these rough economic times?
“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I don’t dance around, I just go there to get the job done. If a guy hits me with a good shot, I’m gonna hit him right back with a good shot. I don’t take breaks in the ring, and in my head, it’s like running a marathon and I’ve gotta stay ahead of the guy the whole time. I guess people just identify with me, and I’ve been very lucky with that since Day One because I’ve had a great following.”
Maybe it’s because Seanie Monaghan gets it. As a child of the 80s, he remembers what boxing was and what it meant to him and to the public. He’d like to bring that back.
“At the end of the day, this is the entertainment business that we’re in,” said Monaghan. “People come to watch these fights and be entertained. And I hope that I’m contributing in the right way because I’d like boxing to be what it was. When I was a kid in the 80s, watching boxing growing up, everybody knew about boxing, they knew who the champions were, and if you looked at the fights, they would go around and show all the celebrities that were there, and boxing was a huge deal. Nowadays, boxing’s kind of losing its luster, and I hope to be able to contribute in some way to getting boxing back into the main spotlight and being the greatest sport that it is, because to me, it really is the greatest sport out there.”