Retiring boxer Seanie Monaghan was a symbol of Long Beach resilience

Community rallied behind pro fighter during his nearly 10-year career in the ring

Seanie Monaghan, right, defeated Chicago’s Donovan “Da Bomb” George in 2015, and clinched the North American Boxing Organization light heavyweight title.
Seanie Monaghan, right, defeated Chicago’s Donovan “Da Bomb” George in 2015, and clinched the North American Boxing Organization light heavyweight title.
Photo courtesy Mikey Williams

After nearly a decade in the ring as a professional fighter — with 29 wins, 17 by knockout, and only three losses in a career that took him from the bright lights of Madison Square Garden to Las Vegas — Long Beach resident “Irish” Seanie Monaghan has hung up his gloves and announced his retirement.

“We had a good run, and time-wise it’s about half my life that I’ve been boxing,” said Monaghan, 37, a light heavyweight who began his pro career in 2010. “Boxing is a huge part of my life and who I am, and I’m looking to take the lessons I’ve learned in the ring and with coach Joe [Higgins] and put them to use in the next chapter in my life.”

Monaghan, who became a symbol of hope in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, made the announcement on Facebook on April 16. He said that the time was right, particularly after struggling to make the 175-pound weight for his last fight against Callum Johnson in March, which he lost.

“I had a couple of long breaks between fights — not by design — and during that time I was working out and killing it in the gym, but my body changed,” said Monaghan, who has two young children, Sammy and Molly, with his wife, Beverly. “The last couple of fights I was struggling to make the weight. It got harder and harder, and I knew it wasn’t good for my health.”

Higgins, his longtime trainer, described Monaghan’s career as nothing short of inspiring, one in which Monaghan achieved a stunning winning streak — he was undefeated for 28 straight fights.

During his run, Monaghan held two championship belts — the North American Boxing Organization light heavyweight title and the WBC Continental Americas title — and was ranked among the top five fighters in the world. Though shots at a world title came close during his career, the negotiations fell through.

“A few fights didn’t happen, but not on my end — the offers fell through,” Monaghan said. “But I would’ve gotten in the ring and fought anybody — I never turned down a fight.”

“He achieved the goal, which was to make it to contender status,” Higgins added. “It’s an elite thing to be a top contender. Guys tend to avoid you at certain times in your career . . . and sometimes you have a horrible loss. It was time to go — his last fight was a difficult one, and . . . somewhere along the line you have to walk away. Your family becomes more important.”

“It was a fun ride, and he never cheated the work — and he had to balance family life and training,” Higgins said. “He was a true professional. Every promoter loved him, and he had a great reputation as a top fighter.”

Proving the naysayers wrong

A 1999 Long Beach High School graduate and a former bricklayer from the West End, Monaghan made it to the finals of the Golden Gloves in 2008 and fought in a string of amateur bouts, where he became known as a power puncher and believed he could make it in the pros.

As a young man with no direction who got into his share of brawls in the West End, Monaghan turned his life aroundwith the help of boxing. He first expressed an interest in the sport to his best friend, the late Bobby Calabrese, who was murdered in 2004. Calabrese encouraged him to train at the Freeport PAL, where Monaghan met Higgins.

“This sport — and the people I’ve met along the way — have changed my life drastically for the better,” Monaghan wrote on Facebook. “The life lessons I’ve learned from Joseph Higgins will hopefully carry me a long way in the next chapters of life. I met Coach Joe as a 20-year-old . . . with no life plans, no direction — just a wild party animal, street fighter. He instilled in me his military style, no excuses fortitude and mental toughness.”

“No one expected Seanie to achieve what he did,” Higgins added. “He’s been at it since he just turned 20. He was a troubled youngster, to some degree. It turned out that boxing reversed him — he always had a good heart but couldn’t get out of trouble, and now he’s such a model citizen, a great father and husband.”

Monaghan also proved wrong the naysayers who doubted his foray into pro boxing — especially as he earned a reputation for knocking his opponents out early. In 2012 he defeated Romaro Johnson by technical knockout to clinch the WBC title at the Roseland Ballroom.

He has bested top fighters such as Donovan George and Fulgencio Zuniga, both former IBO world champions; Elvir Muriqi; Cleiton Conceicao, a former Olympian; and the Micky Ward-trained boxer Joe McCreedy by TKO on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley in Las Vegas in 2014.

“He had an ability to win fights that were on the line,” Higgins said. “There were a couple of fights where if you lost them, the [sports] writers would say I told you so. That, to me, was so satisfying.”

In 2013, Monaghan signed with Las Vegas-based Top Rank, which promotes many top boxers, including Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Monaghan and others have said that the agreement marked an important step in his career.

“Seanie had a tremendous career,” manager P.J. Kavanagh said. “He started late, and what he accomplished was amazing. And to finish with a record that he achieved is incredible. He fought in all the biggest stages in the world, and we worked with the best promoters in the world.”

A lasting legacy

Monaghan and others say that his career was fueled by support from family, friends and the Long Beach community. Hundreds of “Team Monaghan” supporters packed his fights, even traveling to big venues such as the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and Monaghan attracted fans from across the globe.

“It was definitely a special situation — I’m Long Beach born and raised, and Long Beach is like a giant extended family,” Monaghan said. “I completely understand how much of a blessing that was, and I will always appreciate everyone’s support for me.”

Professional big-wave surfer and Long Beach resident Will Skudin said that Monaghan’s fights helped galvanize the community, particularly after Sandy. Like many residents, Monaghan was forced to evacuate with his family when the storm hit. Monaghan’s home was damaged, and he worked alongside his friends and neighbors to help gut and rebuild their homes. The storm, he said, only strengthened his resolve in the ring.

“Seanie gave Long Beach something that we needed,” Skudin said. “When you’re a Long Beacher, you have a lot of pride, so the community really rallied around Seanie because it was a way for us to come together and show strength. By him just doing his thing, he helped thousands of people come together in the same place for the same cause. I think he helped reinvigorate our community.”

Higgins said it was also special that Monaghan’s late father, Davy, who died last year, was there to cheer his son on.

“He passed away right before the end, and Seanie got to share his entire career with his father,” Higgins said.

“Seanie was very popular because of the person he is,” Kavanagh added. “He’s a great guy, and everybody who met him really liked him, and he made a lot of great friends along the way. He was always a class act.”

Monaghan is now pondering the next chapter in his life. He helped launch a youth boxing program at Long Beach’s MLK Center last month, and has begun working as a construction supervisor with a property management company in Manhattan. He said he was grateful to both Higgins and Kavanagh, as well as his mother, Joanie; his sister, Sarah; his wife and children and his supporters.

“I have so many doors open right now, and I’m just going to make the right choice,” he said. “I took boxing as far as I could. I’m not going to have to get punched in the face anymore — and I look forward to going to work in a suit.”