Welsh middleweight Kerry Hope has established himself as a force in one of the most exciting divisions at domestic and international level during a topsy-turvy 2012.
After exchanging a pair of tremendous tear-ups with Gregorz Proska for the European title earlier this year, Hope returns on December 8 at the London Olympia to take on Darren Barker in an intriguing clash between two men at a crossroads in their careers.
Hope talked to Sports Mole about stepping up in class and the fine line between preparing for war and facing burnout.
How excited are you to test yourself against a former world-title challenger in Darren Barker?
"I'm really looking forward to it, it's nice to get back into the picture with a tough fight against a big name. Hopefully I can upset Darren's plans and go on to try and win my European title back and hopefully down the line move to world level. Darren is an exceptional fighter, he's boxed at the highest level, so I know it's going to be a tough fight but I also know I have the tools to beat him."
Darren has been out of action for over a year. Do you plan to maximise any potential ring-rust by setting a furious pace?
"I always pride myself on being fit and in shape. I can start fast, I can finish fast and maintain that work rate. The main thing against Darren will be to suss him out and we plan to do that pretty quickly and take over the fight. I am aware he has a height advantage over me but come fight night he will have been out for 15 months and I hope his inactivity proves to be a factor."
You've enjoyed a rapid rise in 2012. How does it feel to be featuring near the top of huge bill on a regular basis?
"Since the first fight with Gregorz Proska in March things have changed and gone pretty well. I know I lost the rematch but I've only myself to blame for that because we over-trained. To come back in against someone like Darren is a big deal. It would be even better if a title was involved but that won't affect my motivation, this is a big fight."
How conscious are you of making adjustments to training after problems last time out?
"As experienced as I am after 17 years in the ring I still made a stupid mistake with Proska second time round. I knew what I was doing but I'm so dedicated and desperate to win I just can't help it. I live in the gym normally but this time it's going to be different. I've got a trainer that's going to tell me when to step away and take a step back to stay fresh. I hate taking a day off to be honest."
Seven weeks out have you start to formulate the gameplan and prepare to put on a show at the London Olympia?
"The plan is in place already, I've got the best training behind me and a good team full of good gym-mates. I'm really looking forward to the fight now. I'm leaving nothing to chance and feel confident of getting a huge victory."