Kiwi heavyweight Junior Fa will take to the ring in the United States today for what could be the toughest bout of his career with the good wishes of WBC world champion Deontay Wilder still ringing in his ears.
Fa, undefeated as a professional and looking to start what he considers a big year on the right note, will be disadvantaged in terms of height and weight in the main event against Frenchman Newfel Ouatah in Columbus, Ohio.
Ouatah, a 33-year-old with a 16-2 record as a professional, is likely to provide a stern test for Fa, but the New Zealander revealed he and his camp received a call from Wilder ahead of the fight and that he would be joining Wilder's camp before the American's next bout.
Fa's stable mate Hemi Ahio, a fellow heavyweight and Tongan-Kiwi, will feature on the undercard and also spoke to Wilder.
"He called the camp and we got to see him on FaceTime," Fa told the Herald. "He wished us good luck… it created a good buzz for us. He's a nice fella."
Wilder used Fa as a sparring partner before his dramatic fight against Tyson Fury in Los Angeles in December, which finished in a draw, and has invited him back for another four-week contract –recognition of the quality and durability that Fa can offer in the ring.
Ranked eighth in the world by the WBO, Fa wants to make a concerted push up this year in order to put himself into contention for a world title fight.
Wilder's re-match with Fury has been postponed but there is rising speculation that a fight has been tentatively scheduled against fellow American Dominic Breazeale, who is in the same Al Haymon stable as Wilder. Lou Di Bella, Fa's American promoter, has close links with Haymon.
Fa returned from his previous camp with Wilder with a massive confidence boost and quickly dispatched Argentine Rogelio Omar Rossi in his next bout in Christchurch in December.
"I learned the importance of confidence and the need to back myself in this sport," Fa said. "It was great to see how they run their camp so I can try some of the things they do. He has a very good team around him."
Fa added of Ouatah, whose losses have come against fellow Frenchman Johann Duhaupus and German Erken Teper: "I do like the fact that he is experienced and he's been in the ring with a few top guys. And he's taller because all the champions right now are taller than me."
Fa's manager Mark Keddell said: "This is Junior's first step towards being a main event fighter in America. It's a big step as far as the pressure on Junior to perform in front of a large crowd and being top dog. It takes a long time in America to headline big shows.
"The opponent is easily the best we've fought. He's had two losses but they were to exceptional fighters. It's the first time Junior has given away height and reach.
"There are some different challenges. We know the heavyweights in the division are a lot bigger than they used to be. It's a tough fight. We're fighting in America, not in New Zealand in front of a home crowd and home judges."
Junior Fa v Newfel Ouatah in Columbus, Ohio, will be broadcast live on Sky Sports tomorrow from 2pm.