Bradford boxer Harris Akbar faces one of the biggest tests of his young career as early as the quarterfinals at the Commonwealth Games.
A freak of the light middleweight draw pits the newly crowned European champion against Olympic bronze medallist Aidan Walsh, representing Northern Ireland here.
The pair have never fought at senior level but Akbar’s first recorded fight in 2013 was against Walsh in an England-Ireland international at Woods Hotel in Westport.
The stage will be a little different this time with a partisan crowd set to descend on the NEC on Thursday.
“This is what I’d have hoped to be the final,” said Akbar, who is one of over 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.
“It just goes to show how hard the Commonwealth is. It’s one of the toughest divisions and it says everything when you’re up there competing.
“It’s going to be a clash of styles for sure, but we’ll see who the better man on the day is.
“It’s not going to be about styles, it’s about who is the better man. Hopefully the home crowd will be different, the English are going to bring it.”
Akbar was untroubled in his round of 16 opener, taking victory over Ghana’s Jessie Lartey by unanimous decision, roared on by home support.
He said: “It felt good. Get the first one out of the way, open the lungs. That’s all it is really. It just felt unbelievable being in there.
“We’ve never had this atmosphere before.
“You must get used to it, even in the walkout, trying to get in the right frame of mind. The crowd can really motivate you and that’s all I did in there, enjoy myself.”
It feels like Akbar has never come down from the high of May’s victory in Armenia, England’s only gold medal at the championships.
He said: “It’s the self-belief more than anything. The self-belief I have, I can’t even put it into words. If I put in my best performance, no-one will beat me.”
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