Few fighters have served as long an apprenticeship as Ryan Garner.

It is eight years since “The Piranha” arrived on the scene as an 18-year-old prodigy, giving elite professionals all they could handle in the gym and producing the type of performances that looked certain to put him on an accelerated path to the top.

Injuries, bad luck and bad decisions threw an anchor out behind him, bringing his progress to a grinding halt.

Garner found his way through the ups and downs and the false dawns and disappointments. He is now a 26-year-old father who has realised that he has the natural gifts to provide his young family with a better life. Saturday night’s fight with former British super featherweight champion, Liam Dillon. feels like the start of something big. 

“It feels like I’m there now. I’m fighting for titles and in good fights,” Southampton’s Garner told BoxingScene. “In my career there’s never been anything like this. I’m high up the bill against a game, live opponent. When you’re fighting a journeyman, it just becomes another fight. This is meaningful. I’m fighting somebody who’s there to take my head off. 

“It’s falling into place. Financially it’s getting there, sponsors are coming on board. Before, I’d fight, have a long gap and by the time I fight again I’d have nothing left after paying my bills and rent. Now I can save something and get a deposit for a house. That’s my main aim. I’m a prizefighter and I supply for my family first and foremost.”

Garner’s admission that Dillon is going to provide him with his most dangerous night's work so far is another sign that the penny has dropped.

Garner, 14-0 (8 KOs), put in two impressive performances last year and had been set to jump up a couple of levels and fight Anthony Cacace on last November’s “Magnificent Seven” show in Manchester. Cacace’s late withdrawal with a wrist injury left him stranded on the sidelines but the ‘new’ Ryan Garner stayed in the gym despite the disappointment and will enter the biggest night of his career in the best physical and mental shape he has been in.

“I started training [for Dillon] 11 weeks ago. I usually do eight but for this one I decided to start a bit earlier. I’ve been consistent for ages now really, I haven’t stopped since last year,” he said.

“I definitely look bigger and more ripped. I’ve done everything right. Nutrition-wise I’ve been more strict. I’ve gotta do it seriously or else I’m gonna get beat up aren’t I?

“This one I’m more fancied. I’d have been more of an underdog for that one [Cacace] but it’s still not inevitable I’ll win this one. That’s why I feel it’ll set me up. I feel like I’m in my prime now. I’m 26 and it’s the most physically strong I’ve felt. I’m hitting crisp and accurately but I feel physically strong with it now. It’s the right time to start pushing on.”

Dillon, 13-1-1 (3 KOs), will start pressing forward as soon as the opening bell sounds and won’t stop until the fight is over. The all action Londoner, only knows one way of fighting and he held the British title as recently as February when he lost it to Reece Bellotti after a gruelling 12 rounds.

“It will be a good fight. His style is gonna gel well with mine,” Garner said. “There will be times when it’s tough but I think it’ll make me look good if he comes forward and walks onto a lot. The way I’m punching, I’ve been hurting people in sparring a lot. I think I’m a lot crisper than Bellotti. We’ll see what happens.

“Even though I obviously think I’m gonna get the better of him, at times it is going to be exciting. People who watch it are gonna clock on and want to watch me all the time. That’s the aim.”