David Nyika returns to Joseph Parker's training camp with renewed hunger after finally securing a willing opponent for his professional boxing debut next month.
Nyika, the dual Commonwealth Games gold medallist and qualified Olympian, dips his fists in the pro ranks in a cruiserweight bout against the 3-0 Jesse Maio on the undercard of the Parker-Junior Fa heavyweight showdown on February 27 in Auckland.
London-born New Zealand light heavyweight prospect Jerome Pampellone, who made his pro debut last December, is also locked in for the undercard, though his opponent is yet to be confirmed.
The supremely talented Nyika, long considered the future of New Zealand boxing, had trouble finding an opponent with few locals willing to risk their records.
Maio's challenge was clear as Nyika towered over him at their first face-off in south Auckland. Nyika is expected to make light work of their scheduled four three-minute rounds.
That's partly because Nyika will enjoy superb preparation as he returns on Wednesday to work as a sparring partner for Parker alongside New Zealand super heavyweight amateur Matt Mataika.
"It's a relief to have someone that's actually coming to fight; someone who wants to win just as bad as I do," the 25-year-old Nyika said of Maio, who turned pro last year. "It's great to get this tucked away so we know what we have to work towards. I've now got four weeks to hone my craft. I'm already in pretty good shape.
"The height advantage is always key for me. I'm looking forward to whatever he fires at me and I'll fire right back at him.
"The plus side of sparring with Joe and Matty is they are two very fast heavyweights. I don't have any major advantage in speed; I'm about the same height so it's a great set up. I also have to keep my wits about me because they're both heavy hitters."
Nyika has qualified for the rescheduled Olympics in July but uncertainty continues to shroud the Tokyo Games, with a report from The Times last week suggesting the Japanese Government are preparing to cancel the event due to the latest Covid-19 outbreak - a report since denied by the International Olympic Committee.
"I've pretty much checked out of all the updates because at the moment it seems every news outlet is broadcasting every whisper they hear," Nyika said. "For me it's important to focus on each goal as it comes and at the moment that's my pro debut so that's my priority."
While Nyika has fought abroad and on many big amateur stages he admits the hype and pressure surrounding his pro debut in the entertainment arena requires an adjustment.
"It's going to be a challenge – more away from the actual fighting than anything. It's a different environment, different feel.
"If the stoppage presents itself I'll take it but otherwise I'm prepared to stay in there the full time."
The 90.7kg cruiserweight limit is where Nyika views his long-term future.
"Cruiserweight is where I'm going to do most of my work as a professional boxer. If I do creep up into the heavyweights it will be very tactical. I won't be going up and getting my head bashed around."
Maio's last fight was at the Waitemata Rugby League Club in December when he defeated Craig Thomson by technical decision. He isn't close to the same class as Nyika but is promising to come forward, attempt to overcome his height and reach disadvantages and hopes the occasion of fighting in front of 12,000 people inspires him to an unlikely upset.
"He's Commonwealth Games gold medallist, he's qualified for the Olympics. His credentials are all there but, hey, in this sport to be the man you've got to beat the man," said Maio, who like Pampellone fights out of Isaac Peach's gym. "If I can shock the world that will open a few more doors for me so that's all the motivation I need.
"I've got to get on the inside and then do my dirty work. It's not going to be the easiest task but once I'm on the inside it will be hard to get me out of there.
"I've got nothing to lose. We're not here to make friends. The pressure is all on him. This is his pro debut. I've been hit with those 10 ounce gloves before – I'm going to be a different kettle of fish altogether."
The other confirmed fight for the Parker-Fa undercard features Philip Tele'a, the Aucklander who lost a life-changing 140kg - over half his body weight - under the guidance of David Letele and his the Buttabean Motivation programme. Tele'a takes on Niro Iuta from Zoo Boxing in a corporate fight.