By Duncan Johnston
Plans are in place to have Kiwi heavyweight boxer Joseph Parker fight a world top 10 opponent in New Zealand before the end of the year.
The bout was likely to headline the next edition of the Fight for Life extravaganza.
It was almost certain to be held outside of Auckland in December.
Parker's promoter, Duco Events, expected criticism as it continued to push its prized fighter, but made no apologies.
Parker has risen to every challenge in a blossoming nine-fight professional career that had raised him to a WBO ranking of 15.
Parker has no problem with his demanding schedule.
"I'm comfortable. I have a great team, and before they tick off on anything they discuss it with me and [trainer] Kevin Barry," he said.
"I'm excited with the steps we are taking.
"I know we are moving fast, but to keep getting better you have to keep fighting and learning in the ring. That's how you learn your craft."
Duco was not putting an opponent's name in the public arena yet, but it would be Parker's fifth fight this year and his fourth in six months.
He would fight little-known American Keith Thompson in Bethlehem, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, on Sunday.
He would then put his WBA Oriental and PABA titles on the line against Bermuda's durable Sherman Williams in Auckland on October 16.
But December loomed as his biggest test to-date and a crucial step in the ambitious plans to snare Parker a world title fight by the end of next year.
Duco boss Dean Lonergan said a win in December could elevate Parker into the WBO's top five and start to give the camp real bargaining power.
"It was always the plan to fight Joe at least five or six times this year," he said.
"We think he's capable of a lot more than what most other people think he is capable of.
"We are definitely looking to fight someone in the top 10 before Christmas. There are a number of guys we think we should be targeting, so we are doing that right now.
"People criticised us, saying that Brian Minto was a step too far [Parker won], but it's not just a decision by me or [Duco partner] David Higgins.
"We take into account what our matchmaker, Stuart Duncan, has to say and most importantly what Kevin Barry has to say.
"At the end of the day, he knows exactly where Joseph is at and we have passed a couple of names by Kev and he says, 'Yeah, I like it', so it's now a case of us going to get it."
Duco has long chased unbeaten Australian Lucas Brown, who was ranked seventh by the IBF and eighth by the WBC, but Browne has priced himself out of Duco's range.
"He's too scared to fight us," Lonergan said.
"He's a big, fat, slow slug who we'd love to knock out.
"We think he's a pretender who shouldn't be near the rankings."
Parker said there was no danger of getting too far ahead of himself.
He was focused on Thompson and realised the importance of a good result on Sunday as he debuted on American television.
Parker said beating Minto had given him huge self-belief, especially since Minto had demolished Shane Cameron, a Kiwi fighter Parker had looked up to.
"Minto was a tough dude who knew a lot of tricks," he said.
"It gave me confidence in myself and what I can do in the ring, and confidence that if we put in the hard work and follow the plan, everything can fall into place.
"The highlight was executing the game plan."
Parker's Philadelphia buildup yesterday included a visit to the grave of former world heavyweight champion Joe Frazier.
"It was humbling to visit the grave site of Joe Frazier, a hall of famer," Parker said.
"I certainly never thought I'd visit the grave of the first man to beat Muhammad Ali.
"It's definitely inspiring to see that plaque and the picture on his grave. Reading that ... his world titles, it's definitely something I want to achieve. It's motivation."
Parker was joined by Kiwi light-heavyweight Robbie Berridge, who would fight on the same card on Saturday.
Lonergan said the next Fight for Life was likely to again be a rugby v rugby league format, and he was pleased about plans to get "exciting" players involved.