Undefeated New Zealand heavyweight Junior Fa believes he has gone to a new level thanks to his intensive sparring work with American veteran Malik Scott, a man who has been in the ring with some of the world's best.
Fa and Scott have been sparring 10 rounds three times a week for the past three weeks in preparation for Fa's fight against Mexican Luis Pascual in Auckland on Friday.
For Fa it is an opportunity to right the perceived wrongs of his last fight in March – a flat performance in South Dakota against Craig Lewis after which the Kiwi-Tongan was awarded the bout by majority decision.
Most observers would have handed the 28-year-old all six rounds but, after a stunning knockout in his previous fight in the United States against Fred Latham, which ended in the first round, Fa didn't throw enough punches against Lewis.
He will want to put in a statement-like performance against Pascual, a 26-year-old whom has a 13-1 professional record but whom has never fought outside Mexico.
Fa's workrate is one major area of improvement after his battles in training with Scott, a friend and previous sparring partner of Joseph Parker's. And having that competition should help with his mental approach – another area which he believes let him down in the Lewis fight.
"It's been great sparring with him," Fa said of Scott, a 37-year-old who has fought 42 times as a professional with only three losses. "You get to see a different level. He carries with him a lot of experience and skills and it's forced me to pick up my game.
"Each sparring session I was improving – my timing, my punching output. On that first sparring session we had I definitely felt what level he was at with his boxing."
Scott lost by decision to the dangerous Cuban Luis Ortiz in his last fight two years ago and has been in the ring with WBC world champion Deontay Wilder (a first-round knockout loss), but he has some notable victories on his record, including one against Tony Thompson.
He was Parker's main sparring partner before the then WBO world champion's fight against Anthony Joshua in April, and the American has been impressed with Fa.
"This kid wants to learn," Scott told the Herald. "Every day I see him in the gym and every sparring session that we have he's getting better and better. He's throwing a different variety of punches – everything he didn't do, I believe, in his last fight, he's working on that.
"I believe this is going to be one of his best performances.
"He's throwing combinations but also a different variety of punches and putting them all together. Whenever it is he has the opportunity to get three or four punches off against me, he's getting them off, he's letting them go.
"We all want him to do more, obviously we want him to let his hands go to get the best out of the kid because he's a young lion, he has the opportunity to change his life and become world champion.
"He has a good right hand and it doesn't just come from power, it comes from speed as well. He has great timing for a big man. If you make a mistake he's a great counter-puncher, he can time you very well. He's a naturally strong kid – if you put all those things together it makes him a dangerous fighter."
Asked to compare Fa and Parker, who have a two-all record against each other as amateurs and appear destined to fight at some stage in what would be a massive domestic showdown, Scott said: "I really can't compare them because Joseph is a proven, experienced fighter – he's almost a veteran now. The experience level is different. Junior is still raw and learning. He's on the right path for a prospect.
"I have a lot of respect for both of them. If they fight it is going to be a massive fight – whenever it happens."
* Fa v Pascual is the main event on Shane Cameron's Indian Motorcycle Fight Night at the Auckland Indian Centre in Eden Terrace on Friday night, a card which will be televised live on Sky Sport.