Having spent years looking down from the top of the WBO junior lightweight rankings, Archie Sharp suddenly found himself looking up at Argentina’s unheralded Reuquen Arce.

Inactivity, politics and promotional changes have caused Sharp’s star to fall in recent years, and it would be safe to say that the 29-year-old’s career flashed before his eyes when he was hurt and heavily dropped by Arce in the opening round of Sharp’s return to television screens last month.

Fortunately for Sharp, Arce snatched at his chance. He was wild and reckless rather than cold and calculating, and Sharp survived the biggest crisis of his career. 

“I’ve never been hurt, never been shook, never been wobbled – and I’ve been in with some big punchers over the years,” Sharp said during an interview with Blighty Boxing. “It’s a bit of humble pie in regards that no matter who you’re fighting, you’re fighting men with 8-ounce gloves on. They’re fighting men and if they swing one over and catch you correctly …”

Although Sharp (25-0, 9 KOs) pulled himself together and outboxed Arce to win an eight-round decision, he was visibly upset by the start he made to the fight, and would return to his corner after each round and spend much of the minute’s break shaking his head and loudly criticizing himself.

In the cold light of day, Sharp was able to make sense of his night’s work.

“When people were telling me after the fight that this could be the best thing that’s happened to me, I was like, ‘What’s great about being pennied in the first round? There’s nothing great about that.’ But it’s experience. You don’t switch off no matter who you’ve got in front of you.”

Sharp won’t be able to switch off for a single second if – as rumored – he returns to action against Ryan Garner at the O2 Arena on July 27. The talented “Piranha” has finally built some momentum and scored a career-best win over former British champion Liam Dillon on the same card as Sharp’s battle with Arce.

Over the past five years, both fighter’s careers have changed dramatically. When Sharp was at the peak of his powers, Garner was at his lowest ebb. As Sharp strung together impressive victories over Lyon Woodstock, Jordan McCrory and Declan Geraghty, Garner put a promising career at risk by missing weight, missing fights and losing his way outside the ring.

Sharp is aware that things are very different now but believes that the bigger the challenge, the better the performance he will put in.

“If that happens, it’s a great fight,” he said. “At the end of the day, I just wanna be in big fights where the titles are to get back to where I need to be – that No. 1 spot. I need that for you to see the best Archie Sharp. Those little eight-rounders against people you should be beating, they’re the most dangerous for slip-ups because you don’t get yourself hungry for it. My best fights were with Deco [Geraghty] or Lyon Woodstock, when the pressure is on. That’s when you see the best Archie Sharp.

“I believe in my ability and I believe I’m the best. I was hoping to fight [Anthony] Cacace – I’m not gonna lie – after that. It would have been brilliant to share the ring with him now that he’s come back with another belt. Fair play to Cacace, what a great performance that was.”

Cacace, of course, ripped the IBF junior lightweight title away from Joe Cordina in Saudi Arabia last month. Cacace – who also holds the IBO belt – has been something of a bogeyman for Britain’s best 130-pounders over the years, but a fight with the hard-hitting, skilled Northern Irishman has suddenly and unsurprisingly become a more attractive prospect. It may seem ambitious – and a bit presumptuous – after his struggles with Arce, but Sharp would love the first crack at the 35-year-old Cacace’s world title belts. 

“He’s a great fighter. He’s been around a long time and he’s a few years older than us, so I've seen him and he’s a great fighter,” Sharp said of Cacace. “Now I’m back with the team [Queensberry], I feel like I’m in a great position. It would have been nice if it had materialised for July 27, but I hear him saying now that he’s got other fights, a mandatory, and there’s politics behind that as well.

“It’s the same thing with Garner,” Sharp said of making a July 27 fight with the 26-year-old from Southampton, U.K. “He was in a very tough fight. Cuts and all sorts. I wasn’t very optimistic that that would happen. He’s just had an eight- or 10-week camp, hard on his body. Then a hard 10 rounds with Dillon. Even though he won comfortably, Dillon was in the fight and landing shots. There were cuts, bruises and bad hands.”

Whoever Sharp fights next, he believes that he is only just approaching his best years and is drawing inspiration from his peers in and around the junior lightweight division.  

“All these great fights, like Cacace, Joe Cordina, Maxi Hughes and Leigh Wood, all got to 30,” Sharp said. “I feel that now, I’m a lot better fighter than when I boxed Woodstock back when I was 24. The Archie Sharp of today would have stopped Woodstock in four rounds. I’m a completely different fighter to the one I was four years ago. I truly believe that as I’ve got older, at 29, I’m just coming into my prime.”