By Liam Napier
American boxer Monte Barrett landed some sharp verbal shots on Shane Cameron in advance of the Kiwi fighter's return to the heavyweight division, claiming he would rather fight David Tua.
Boxing is as much mental as physical. So at this week's first face-off, Barrett may have inflicted some irreparable damage on Cameron.
Just over two months out from their July clash in Auckland, it was quickly apparent that Barrett, who ended Tua's career last year, was unfazed by Cameron's challenge. In front of the cameras, the typically outspoken New Yorker laughed, joked and recited a mocking poem about how Cameron was in over his head, before labelling the Kiwi "lunchmeat". He went as far as to say he would take out inexperienced New Zealand heavyweight champion Sonny Bill Williams and Commonwealth cruiserweight titleholder Cameron in the same night.
"Enjoy your five minutes of fame," Barrett taunted Cameron. "I saw your fight with David Tua and you were through the ropes." Barrett further stoked tensions when revealing his first choice was for a third rematch with Tua, who retired last month.
"I would have preferred to fight David," Barrett told Sunday News. "That was my preference because we have more of a history and storyline. But David Tua is a girl. He is the Queen of New Zealand. I'm happy fighting Shane.
"I have the physiological and mental edge over Shane. His panties are all up in a bunch. He's an emotional guy. I came here to stop Shane. I plan on stopping him and doing it in a good fashion."
Cameron's attempts to counter Barrett's trash talk fell flat.
One hopes his first heavyweight fight in over two years – a farcical encounter with former league player John Hopoate in 2010 – is a more even affair.
"Shane got a bit agitated at how calm Monte Barrett was," respected boxing referee Lance Revill observed.
"All that makes a difference on fight night, how you handle this. Shane will go away with a bit of a knot in his stomach after today. Monte Barrett won't. He'll go on laughing and talking. That's the best way to approach it."
Cameron has plenty to prove as he makes the step up from cruiserweight. His 28 win, two loss record is credible, but there is little doubt this is a defining moment in his career. It could, ultimately, shape how he is remembered. He will step into the ring at his "natural" weight against Barrett, who is seeking New Zealand citizenship in order to call out Williams, should he secure victory.
"I'm getting to the top end of my career," Cameron admitted. "Every fight is basically my last fight. That's the way I've always looked at it. That's how crucial a loss can be. I'm not going to go back to the 105kg I was as a heavyweight. I'm more comfortable at this weight. I feel fast and sharp. I'd be very, very shocked if I lose to this guy. It will be a good victory."
The odds are stacked against Cameron, but Barrett is a journeyman with nine losses. And, as Cameron pointed out, his ageing opponent wears reading glasses.
"He'll be 41 when he fights me," Cameron said. "I'm 34 years old. He's not as quick as he was when he was 34. He knows that. That's why he fired up when I brought up his speed."
The undercard may feature former world heavyweight champion Oliver McCall, whose signature right hand dropped Lennox Lewis to the canvas.
Chauncey Welliver, a New Zealand No 1 coming into the ring with 18 consecutive wins, and Joseph Parker's professional debut, are other drawcards.