LAS VEGAS – “I’ve noticed that we’re not too far off these top guys,” said a confident Michael Zerafa ahead of his WBA middleweight title challenge of Cuba’s veteran star Erislandy Lara.

Zerafa has boxed in good company in his 31-4 (19 KOs) career, defeating Jeff Horn while coming up short against Kell Brook and Peter Quillin. Still, those fights were some time ago and he has grown as a fighter since.

“Besides the sparring [in Australia], we’re exactly where we need to be with these top guys. I’ve taken a lot from them [facing big names] and mentally and physically I feel I’ve grown as a fighter. I fought them as a boy, and now I’m a man, 32-years-old and I feel like the best is yet to come.”

Lara is 40, and Zerafa is convinced it is time for change at the top at 160lbs. The Australian has some new faces in his corner, too, and will have Nonito Donaire as his coach at the T-Mobile in Las Vegas tonight.

“We just met two years ago and we got on like a house on fire,” Zerafa said of their union. “We hit the dancefloor together [at the WBA Convention] and it all just sparked from there and my partner and his wife, Rachel, they got along and we kept the circle very small. When I got back to Australia, we kept in contact and when this fight came up he [Donaire] put his hand up and he was keen to take control.”

Zerafa is in shape and ready to go. He arrived in Las Vegas more than three weeks ago and after a week of battling for sleep with jetlag, he managed to get that under control and has been managing eight hours of sleep each night.

“Everything’s good vibes at the moment,” he said.

But it has not been. He has had to wait for Lara to walk down the aisle as the Cuban tried to get a more lucrative meeting with Danny Garcia over the line. It has cost Zerafa 13 months of inactivity, and he aims to work out that frustration tomorrow.

“Yeah, it’s been hard,” he admitted. “This fight should have happened 13 months ago, but unfortunately that’s politics, that’s contracts, and promotional ways but we’re here now. It seems like it hasn’t been a long time but it has, 13 months is a long time to wait, so I’ve been in the gym training away and just staying positive.”

Lara tried talking smack, we assume, to Zerafa at yesterday’s weigh in, but Zerafa later said he had no idea what Lara was saying to him. Regardless, they have been respectful all week, and Zerafa was unfazed when he waited to watch Lara’s public workout on Wednesday only for the Cuban veteran to do a small amount of shadowboxing and then leave.

“I hung around, they clashed times together and it is what it is, but it’s all respectful,” Zerafa said. “I’ve nothing but respect for Lara, and his team, and I’m grateful for the opportunity, but it’s time for a new world champion.”