Michael Zerafa edged towards the Western Sydney Stadium ring with a smirk and told Tim Tszyu to "step up".
But seven days before Zerafa was supposed to step through the ropes for a domestic boxing showdown, he turned his back and left his career on the canvas.
His hopes of a fight with Tszyu have been left in ruin and his reputation battered after walking away from a fight he had lobbied for.
The rivalry has simmered for the best part of three years and seemed it would finally reach boiling point on a December night last year.
The face of Australian boxing was just minutes removed from a first-round knockout of Kiwi counterpart Bowyn Morgan. Tszyu would soon say he was above trading barbs with domestic rivals.
But the COVID-19 pandemic would slow his ascension to a shot at the super welterweight crown. So Tszyu stopped former world title challenger Dennis Hogan in the meantime.
When Brian Castano - the WBO champion to whom Tszyu is No. 1 contender - and Jermell Charlo signed off on a unification bout, the Sydneysider zoned in on Zerafa.
Tszyu versus Zerafa was to be the biggest fight on these shores this year. But it would seem the latter was all bark and no bite.
Instead Steve Spark [12-1] will step up at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre on Wednesday night. The card now carries the promotional tag: No Backing Out.
Victorian-based Zerafa's camp cited COVID-19 concerns.
Promoters No Limit went as far as offering a private jet from Essendon to Newcastle, a motel for Zerafa and his team, and made a remarkable offer to let the fighter weigh-in on Tuesday in Melbourne before flying to Newcastle on fight day.
Yet still, Zerafa says "it's all on them".
No Limit tell a different story amid fear Zerafa's call to walk away will cost promoters and No Limit at least $1 million.
"We knew from the moment he looked Tim in the eyes at the press conference and went quiet that he never wanted this fight," No Limit Boxing chief executive George Rose said.
"I knew it. Tim knew it. Australia knew it. He never wanted this fight and all I can say is I'm sorry for everyone who has wanted this fight for so long.
"We said rain hail or shine, Tim Tszyu was fighting in Newcastle on July 7 and that's exactly what's going to happen.
"Full credit to Steve Spark for taking this fight at short notice. We know he is going to make for an incredibly difficult fight for Tim."
Zerafa's decision to walk away leaves any hopes of a domestic blockbuster with Tszyu in tatters. It leaves his career at a crossroads.
There are perhaps few opportunities for Zerafa to be sighted at the top of a televised card in Australia again.
"Credit to Steve for taking this fight," Tszyu said.
"He's a dangerous fighter with a lot of power. I've seen it for myself. I was ringside at the fight in Wollongong when he hammered Jack Brubaker, and saw how well he did under the bright lights.
"He has power, stamina and keeps the pressure on. I know he's coming to hit and hit hard.
"I'm expecting that and much more next Wednesday night. It's going to be a great fight."
So what to make of Spark? He is fighting well above his usual weight class but even boxing legend Jeff Fenech has urged Tszyu not to take him lightly.
"I'm a fighter and fighters fight. I like challenges and life is about taking risks. With no risk there is no reward," Spark said.
"I earned this fight with my last performance. Tim Tszyu beat Jack Brubaker but last time out I battered Jack Brubaker. I cut him and busted his eardrum - it was brutal.
"I've dreamed about fighting Tim Tszyu and obviously this has come a little bit quicker than I expected but that's a good thing. I'm fit and I'm ready and I'm coming to Newcastle to win.
"This is Cinderella Man, this is Rocky. This is my golden ticket."
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