The Freeport PAL is a small, unassuming blue building with a pitched roof, wedged between a basketball court and a children’s park. Monaghan has trained there three times a day, six days a week, and maintained a strict diet to make the required 175-pound weight for the fight.
“My coach pushes me a little bit past my limit every day,” he said. “It’s my job to go home and act like a professional and recover. He can’t make sure I’m in bed on time and eating the right way, but I do it. And we had very tough sparring partners for this one.”
Monaghan’s career trajectory, said his coach, Joe Higgins, is nothing short of remarkable, especially since he is considered a late starter.
As a “young man with no direction,” as he once described himself, Monaghan got into trouble fighting in the streets. Though he had played some sports at Long Beach High School before graduating in 1999, he was drawn to boxing. His best friend, Bobby Calabrese, a former high school wrestling star, recommended that he train at the Freeport PAL, and it was there that Monaghan met Higgins.
The experience was humbling. “Boxing put me on the straight and narrow,” he said.
Calabrese, who often drove Monaghan to Freeport, and bought him his first pair of boxing shoes as a gift, was murdered in 2004 in Island Park. The crime made headlines, and the men accused of killing him were later convicted. Monaghan was so distraught over Calabrese’s death that he punched a brick wall and broke his right hand.
A few weeks later, the Freeport PAL closed, having lost its lease. Still reeling from the loss of Calabrese, Monaghan quit boxing for about a year.
Kavanagh persuaded him to return to the sport, and after he resumed his training, Monaghan made it to the finals of the Golden Gloves in 2008 and fought in a string of amateur bouts. He quickly became known as a power puncher.
To get a sense of what one of Monaghan’s blows could do to the 28-year-old Caputo-Smith (14-1, 10 knockouts), one only need look at a photo of Monaghan hanging above him as he worked out at the PAL. It’s an image of him landing a punch during his 10th professional fight, at Madison Square Garden, which he won by TKO over Anthony Pietrantonio, whose contorted face is almost cartoon-like.