Carl Frampton has targeted his “sweetest” victory when he challenges IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington on December 22.
The 31-year-old has responded impressively to his only defeat - narrowly and by Leo Santa Cruz last year - with four successive, high-profile victories that demonstrated he remains at his peak.
It was that defeat and signs of potential decline when overcoming Horacio Garcia in his following fight that led to his first sustained criticism, and it is for that reason he is relishing the prospect of winning another world title.
Frampton has already reigned at super-bantamweight and featherweight, but for all that his first world title was won in his home city of Belfast, he outclassed bitter rival Scott Quigg, and then defeated Santa Cruz in New York, beating Warrington will represent a new peak.
“This will be the sweetest world title because I have been written off,” he said of their fight at the Manchester Arena. “After I lost to Leo Santa Cruz, people said I was done.
“I was not enjoying boxing a couple of years ago; I was counting down the days until retirement.
“Things are now going well and I am enjoying boxing again. I was winning big fights and beating good opponents but not enjoying it.
“Now I am enjoying it and am an even better fighter.
“I am training smarter and not running myself into the ground or over-training. It’s a much smarter approach and I feel in my prime.”
Warrington, 27, faces his toughest fight to date having unexpectedly defeated Wales’ Lee Selby to win his title in May and rejected the opportunity of a keep-busy opponent in order to focus on making his first defence.
“I have this world title and I don’t plan on giving it up soon,” he said.
“When Carl moved up to featherweight all my pals made jokes that he was coming for me.
“I have always enjoyed watching Carl; I have been a fan. As soon as he comes into the division you start keeping an eye out.
“Over the years he has looked very special. I don’t want to lick his a*** too much but he has looked special at times.
“The Carl fight whets the appetite and I want to prove myself. I am ranked behind Carl and I want to prove I am number one.”