Monroe Jr. jumps back in ring

Video by Leo Roth.

Willie Monroe Jr., clad in one of his many T-shirts bearing an image of Muhammad Ali, was in a reflective mood on Monday.

Ali, the iconic three-time heavyweight champion of the world, passed away last Friday at age 74 and Monroe said Ali’s spirit “will be all over me in the future.’’

The immediate future for the Rochester middleweight contender, 29, has him returning to the ring for the first time in more than a year on Saturday when he fights John Thompson at Turning Stone Casino to highlight a card being aired on Showtime Extreme.

It’s Monroe’s first fight since being stopped in the sixth-round by superstar middleweight champ Gennady Golovkin, who owns four belts and is now 35-0 with 32 knockouts. Monroe gave a valiant effort that night in Inglewood, California that earned him points with the national boxing press.

Nonetheless, losing his first world title fight dropped his record to 19-2 with six knockouts, led to managerial and promotional changes, and put his career on hold. What was never on hold was Monroe Jr.’s fighting spirit.

His idol, Ali, would be proud.

“I believe life is 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it,’’ he said during a media session at The Fight Factory, 121 Lincoln Ave. “Now I have a chance to react to what happened to me. I think I’m going to pick up and go farther from here.’’

The year off was hardly wasted.

Willie Monroe Jr., returns to the ring for first time in a year Saturday at Turning Stone vs. John Thompson. The bout is on Showtime Extreme. (Photo: LEO ROTH)

Willie Monroe Jr., returns to the ring for first time in a year Saturday at Turning Stone vs. John Thompson. The bout is on Showtime Extreme. (Photo: LEO ROTH)

Monroe earned his Associate’s degree in physical education/nutrition, passed the civil service test to become a fire fighter and was a paid sparring partner for Vanes Martirosyan for his title fight loss against Erislandy Lara last month. He never left the gym and recouped some cherished family time. And he was able to plot a new course from the business side of things.

That includes a new marketing slogan: “Brick by brick,’’ or BXB.

“Everyone wants to be an overnight success but anything that comes overnight is going to end overnight,’’ Monroe Jr. said. “You have to build your empire brick by brick. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Even the Great Creator himself needed six days to make the earth and stars and then needed a day’s rest. I’m not God so what makes me any better? So it’s brick by brick.’’

The next brick is the 27-year-old Thompson (17-2) of Newark, N.J. in what will be a matchup of former ESPN Boxcino tournament champions. Monroe won the 2014 middleweight title, parlaying that into his world title shot against Golvokin.

Thompson won the 2015 junior middleweight crown, earning a title shot last October against England’s Liam Smith (20-0-1) who knocked him out in the seventh round.

The Monroe-Thompson fight is on the undercard of a Showtime (9 p.m.) main event that pits Ruslan Provodnikov vs. John Molina Jr. There is also an interim WBC lightweight title fight on the card.

“Thompson is going to have to show up,’’ Monroe Jr. said. “I respect every fighter, but he’s coming up against a fighter who has had a year off, has sometime to prove, and has a little malice going right now. He’s got a tough task ahead of him.’’

Monroe hopes to grow from the Golovkin loss both in and out of the ring.

Without giving details, he was subjected to a lot of gamesmanship fighting in the champ’s adopted hometown. He said he learned that he needs to “be more aggressive’’ from a business standpoint in making fights that are in his best interest both from a career and financial standpoint.

Monroe Jr. sports a record of 19-2 with six knockouts. (Photo: LEO ROTH)

Monroe Jr. sports a record of 19-2 with six knockouts. (Photo: LEO ROTH)

On the plus side, he proved he could fight in the middle of the ring against the best in the business, which had been a knock against the School of the Arts graduate.

“It wasn’t like Golovkin taught me anything, but I learned a lot about myself,’’ Monroe said. “I didn’t realize how well I did until I watched the fight. A lot of people say, ‘Willie Monroe doesn’t like to fight inside.’ But rounds 3, 4 and 5 that’s where I was and they were my best rounds. When you go into an arena and have 15,000 screaming fans and 14,989 are for the other guy, it’s tough. It’s a little overwhelming. But God doesn’t make mistakes and it’s just another chapter in my life.’’

LROTH@Gannett.com

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