Welterweight Sadam Ali, a 2008 U.S. Olympian, has a glittering 20-0 record with 12 knockouts. He's a fine prospect, but has yet to fight a top opponent -- or anyone remotely resembling one.
Instead, he has feasted on has-been, never-were and never-will-be opponents.
But that is going to radically change come Saturday night. Ali appears in for an extremely stern test when he takes a huge step up in competition against battle-tested contender Luis Carlos Abregu in a 10-round co-feature of the Bernard Hopkins-Sergey Kovalev light heavyweight unification fight at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Abregu (36-1, 29 KOs), whose lone defeat came by decision to Timothy Bradley Jr. in 2010, has won seven fights in a row since. Among those wins: a seventh-round knockout of another hot prospect, Thomas Dulorme, in 2012. He derailed Dulorme like he hopes to do to Ali.
In 2013, Abregu, 30, of Argentina, won a lopsided 10-round decision against another quality opponent in Antonin Decarie. Ali is aware of his resume and his ability.
"Luis Carlos Abregu is not someone you should overlook or underestimate," Ali said. "He has power in both hands. He gives you a lot to worry about in the ring because of his tremendous power."
Still, Ali, 26, of Brooklyn, New York, is confident that he will be able to rise to the occasion in his stiffest test.
"There is no limit for me. I just want to keep going and going. This is the biggest fight of my career and I just have to be on my A-game," Ali said. "I worked on defense a little more than usual in training camp. I think anyone who fights Abregu should. I've been training hard and I'm mentally and physically prepared. No weight lifting, but a lot of calisthenics.
"It has been a long journey to get here. It hasn't been going as fast as I expected it to but there's a plan for all of us. This is the biggest fight of my career. I hope there are bigger fights coming but so far it's the biggest. I have a tough opponent and I think a lot of people are underestimating me. I'm the underdog now, which I'm not used to being. I'm putting in the time and the work in the gym and I'm ready."
Ali spent the early part of his career refusing to sign with a promoter. It delayed his development. He even promoted some of his own fight cards, an admirable effort but one that did little to advance his career.
Now he goes in against Abregu as the underdog for the first time in his career. It's a position Ali is OK with.
"I honestly like being looked at as the underdog," Ali said. "I want to be underestimated, that way you're going to be surprised by what I bring to you. I've put in the time at the gym so I'm not worried about getting tired at all. I have to be heads up in the ring.
"This fight is definitely a bigger step up than people thought I was going to take but after I win this I will prove a lot of people wrong. Everybody needs to take this kind of step if they want to be special and I want to be special. I know I am special. Training camp was great and I've been waiting for this opportunity for a long time."