Brad Goodman takes up the narrative from there.
“We told Seanie, ‘You don’t have to fight,’” Goodman recounts. “’We’ll pay you your purse anyway.’ And Seanie said, ‘No, I’ll fight him.’”
“We’d sold a thousand tickets,” Seanie said afterward. “It was too late not to take the fight. It would have hurt my ticket sales for the next one. And I had family and friends who’d come over from Ireland. I couldn’t send them home without seeing me fight.”
It helped that Cantrell was required to forfeit half of his purse to Seanie. Be that as it may, the fight was a war. Seanie won a hard-fought eight-round decision but came out of the bout with an ugly cut above his left eye and a large welt beneath his right.
Beating Cantrell brought Seanie’s record to 17-and-0 with 10 knockouts. “We figured we owed him a soft opponent for his next fight,” Goodman says. That led to Seanie vs. Rex Stanley on the undercard of the April 13thtitle bout between Nonito Donaire and Guillermo Rigondeaux at Radio City Music Hall.
Stanley is 36 years old. Prior to the fight, his record stood at 11-and-4 with 7 knockouts. But he’d won only once in the previous 35 months (a four-round decision over Andrew Keehn, whose record was 0-and-1 at the time). That was in May 2011, and Stanley hadn’t fought since then.
Radio City Music Hall bills itself as “the biggest stage in New York.” It’s a long way from fighting on the street outside a bar in Long Beach.
Seanie had spent the day at a hotel in Manhattan and arrived at his dressing room in Radio City Music Hall at 8:00 p.m. Higgins and cutman George Mitchell were already there. Joe had put in a full day at the gym in Freeport before driving to Manhattan for the fight.
Team Monaghan was sharing the dressing room with seven other undercard fighters. This was the “red corner” dressing room. All eight of the fighters were expected to win. The “blue corner” dressing room was within shouting distance down the corridor.
Donaire and Rigondeaux each had his own dressing room where they could dictate the mood, whether or not there was music, who said what. Undercard fighters can’t control their surroundings. They co-exist with other fighters and their teams.
Some of the fighters near Seanie were sitting quietly. Others were laughing and talking loudly.
The room was hot and stuffy with a claustrophobic feel, long and narrow with a low ceiling and 13 vanity mirrors. Fifty people, many of them physically active men, were crammed into a space designed for 13 chorus girls.
Seanie was wearing faded blue jeans, a black T-shirt, and blue sweatshirt. His fight was scheduled for ten o’clock. For a while, he talked quietly with Higgins, sipping occasionally from a bottle of water.
At 8:20, Juan Perez of Top Rank came into the room and told Seanie, “Your opponent’s not here yet. I hope he comes.”
“Me too,” Seanie said.
The undercard bouts were visible on a television monitor at the far end of the room. In the third fight of the evening, Tyler Canning (who’d been flown in from Wyoming on the assumption that he’d lose to prospect Dario Soccia) scored an upset split decision triumph. Cheers erupted in the “blue” dressing room down the corridor.
Seanie lay down on the carpet in a corner of the room and closed his eyes.
Soccia returned, angry. “Un-f**king-believable,” he said to no one in particular. “What the f**k were the judges looking at?” Then he picked up his cellphone and started texting.
Other fighters fought and returned, some with their faces bruised and swollen. In boxing, even winning takes a toll.
At nine o’clock, Seanie got up from the floor and sat on a chair. Higgins began taping his hands. P.J. Kavanagh came in to wish his fighter well. When the taping was done, Seanie put on his shoes and trunks. At 9:45, trainer and fighter went into the corridor and began working the pads.
“Start with the jab,” Higgins instructed. “That’s it…Work with the jab from the opening bell. Then go after his body…Turn the hook over…Good. That’s what I’m looking for. Show me that again…”
Down the corridor in full view, Rex Stanley and his trainer were engaged in a similar exercise.
“One-two,” Higgins continued. “Again…One more…Jab…Hook…Keep everything nice and short. No gorilla punches…Beautiful…Nice deep breath.”
When they were done, Seanie sat on a stool in the corridor and closed his eyes.
“I was thinking about my son,” he said later. “Sammy is going to see this fight someday, and I wanted it to look good for him. And I was thinking, I can do all the work in the world in the gym, but it doesn’t mean anything if I don’t perform when it counts.”
Moments before leaving for the ring, Seanie put on his last piece of clothing, a faded kelly green sweatshirt that he’d worn for his first pro fight. There had been a problem on that May night in 2010. Once Seanie had gloved up, the sweatshirt wouldn’t fit over his gloves and Higgins had to cut a slit in each cuff to get it on.
“People tell me all the time that I should get a fancy robe,” Seanie says now. “But why change what works?”
This was the second fight card in the history of Radio City Music Hall. Roy Jones vs. David Telesco on January 15, 2000, had headlined the first. Like its predecessor, this one sold out. Seanie’s purse was $20,000. Team Monaghan would also receive 20 percent of the revenue from the tickets it sold. Seanie had sold 500 tickets and come back for more, but none were available.
There were cheers from the crowd as Seanie made his way to the ring.
“This place is so big that they were a little far away this time,” he said afterward. “It means a lot to me that they’re there. But to be honest - and this is no disrespect to my people; I love them - I used to think about my fans during a fight. Then I realized that my mind can’t be in two places, so I kind of block them out once I get to the ring.”
Radio City Music Hall was built for large stage spectacles, not boxing. The sight lines are good, but most of the seats are far away from the action. For most of the night, the capacity crowd of 6,145 relied on four large video screens to see what the two small figures in the ring were doing.
Seanie versus Rex Stanley was scheduled for eight rounds but was much shorter than that. Stanley has some skills but he doesn’t have a chin, a prerequisite for a professional fighter. Seanie fought like a professional and did what he had to do, taking his time and moving forward behind a stiff jab. Midway into the first round, he backed his opponent into a corner and landed an overhand right flush. Stanley dropped to the canvas and rose on wobbly legs. He might have twisted an ankle, but the rest of him didn’t look so good either. Referee Harvey Dock appropriately halted the bout before another punch was thrown. The time was 1:51 of round one.
Seanie Monaghan is now 18-and-0. Where does he go from here?
“I want to be a world champion,” Seanie says. “That’s my goal and dream. I get a sense of accomplishment from being a fighter. And boxing is an opportunity for me to do something big with my life, for me and for my family. I was a bricklayer before I turned pro. Believe it or not, I enjoyed laying bricks. I could do it again if I have to. But I feel like I’m getting better every day as a fighter. I take a lot of pride in what I do. If I stop getting better, I’ll call it quits. But so far, that hasn’t happened. I’ve sparred with guys like Tony Bellew and Isaac Chilemba. I get my respect from them.”
“Seanie keeps getting better,” Joe Higgins posits. “His boxing skills have improved a lot. He’s sparring with top guys now and holding his own against them. He’s number 15 in the IBF rankings, and there’s some other guys in the top 15 we’d like to fight.”
The people in a fighter’s camp want to believe. What do more objective observers think?
“Let’s be honest,” says Ron Katz (who selected some of Seanie’s early opponents for Star Boxing and is one of the best matchmakers in the business). “The best light heavyweights - guys like Chad Dawson and Sergey Kovalev - would kill Seanie. But he’s better than a lot of people think he is. He’s a top-50 fighter for sure. And there are ranked fighters - guys like Tony Bellew and Andrzej Fonfara - who I think he’d be competitive against.”
“Seanie believes in himself, and that’s important for a fighter,” adds Brad Goodman. “He’s moving up in the rankings now. Maybe a champion will be looking for a soft touch and figure Seanie for an easy mark. It would be a nice payday for Seanie. And let me tell you something; Seanie is not soft.”
“Seanie would be in shape,” Goodman continues. “He’d fight his heart out. And this is boxing. On a given night, anything can happen. One thing I know for sure, a lot of people would be rooting for him.
In sum, everyone knows that there’s room for improvement. The question is, “Given the fact that Seanie is 31 years old, how much time is there for improvement?”
That, in turn, leads to the big “What if?”
What if Seanie had started boxing when he was 16 instead of 26?”
“I started late,” Seanie acknowledges. “I know that. If I’d started boxing when I was 16 instead of 26, I’d be a lot further along than I am now. But I was so immature and undisciplined when I was young that it probably wouldn’t have worked out. And you can’t change what happened yesterday. So when people tell me I’m old, I say to myself, ‘Look at what Bernard Hopkins is doing at 48.’ I don’t want to be fighting when I’m 48. But that tells me there’s still time for me to do what I want to do.”
Meanwhile, regardless of what happens next in his career, Seanie Monaghan is a boxing success story.
“There was always a big crowd cheering when I was fighting in the street,” Seanie says. “Now I get paid, and I don’t have to run away from the cops.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His next book (Thomas Hauser on Sports: Remembering the Journey) will published by the University of Arkansas Press later this spring.
April 23, 2013