IF confidence is a measure of success, Michael Zerafa has been wrongly labelled as an underdog.
Just days away from the biggest night of his career, the former Commonwealth titleholder is enjoying every moment of the build-up ahead of his showdown with Jeff Horn on Saturday night.
“The nerves have kicked in and I’m excited,” he told Aus-Boxing.
“The hard work is done, I’m looking forward to getting out there on Saturday night. I want to show that I’m the best. We’re going to Bendigo as the best we’ve been.
“Jeff is tough, but he hasn’t been in there with anyone that’s my size. Look, we know that Mundine was past his used by date, and I think my size, my youth, and my strength is going to show on fight night.”
The 27-year-old has willingly accepted the bad guy baton, openly critiquing the resume and opposition of Horn (19-1-1, 13 KOs) from day dot in anticipation of the aptly titled ‘Battle of Bendigo’.
When probed on his motivation to publicly analyse his opponent in all forms of media, Zerafa (26-3, 15 KOs) spoke frankly.
“I’m a realist, and I’ve spoke what I thought the whole way through,” he explained.
“I guess people have agreed with it, and it’s showed. I respect Jeff and he’s been in the ring with world class guys. I respect that he cleaned out his backyard first, we’ve now got a huge fight and I’m expecting a war.
“I know that I’m under his skin and I can see that he has doubt. Regardless of outcome, I knew that when we first faced off that I was effecting him. Since then, he’s mentioned the he didn’t like the way I chew and the way I talk, and it’s only the beginning.
“To be honest, I’m not even going out of my way to get under his skin. If being real is getting under his skin, he’s got real problems.”
Without the backing of a major promoter, Zerafa has previously travelled for his higher profile opportunities, including unsuccessful challenges against Kell Brook in Sheffield and Peter Quillin in Connecticut.
But with his biggest chance arriving in his home state, the well travelled Melburnian is grateful for the luxuries that he’s been granted this time around.
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“It’s easier for me as I’ve always had to travel for my biggest fights,” he said.
“I’ve really noticed the difference here because I’m already acclimated. Everything is positive and I’m the most confident I’ve ever been.
“The camp for this fight is one of the best I’ve done and the transition to Sam Labruna has been the best decision. They’re not about hard work, but quality work, and I’ve grow so much being here. Not just mentally, but physically as well.
“We’ve gone over the game plans, and without saying too much, we’re going to go out and lay it all on the table.”
Fighters are unique by nature and are often driven by different things. For Zerafa, it’s the chance to prove people wrong, while making a career out of upsetting the odds.
“They never should’ve doubted me, but it’s not even about that,” he continued.
“It’s about giving back. Sometimes people can get the worst idea when it comes to fights and what they see, but it’s not about me. I fight for those who can’t get a better life. I want people to know that there’s another way.
“The general public have doubted me and I’ve had people telling me that Jeff is this and that. But I’ve been in there with the best, I showed that with Kell Brook, and I don’t take much from the fight with Peter Quillin.
“For that fight, I was a 21-year-old in there with an undefeated world champion, but it all makes me hungrier. The difference is Horn has won at that level and I’ve lost, but I’m hungry to make that right.”
Despite the continuing narrative about size, Zerafa believes it is the conflicting styles that will ultimately stack the chips in his favour, citing Horn’s lone defeat to Terence Crawford.
“I can only go from what I’ve seen in previous fights and that’s all I’ve seen,” he concluded.
“He only has the one style; even with Crawford, he struggled with those angles and that’s why I say there’s levels. He got found out. He didn’t know how to adjust to the angles, he was getting hit fast and hit hard too.
“Look, he says he’s a natural middleweight but I don’t see it. You can’t judge yourself off one fight with a guy that was ten years past his used by date. I walk around at 82 kilos at least and I’m a big guy.
“He’s always fighting with that same style, he tries to man-handle his opponents, but my style won’t let him do that. Win, lose or draw, it’s the fight of my life, it does everything for me.
“This is everything that I’ve dreamt for and worked for, having that dream and selling out a stadium. I’ve set out a goal, which is to beat him. If that happens, then it’s only bigger and better things, not just for me, but for everyone.”