Even as Michel ‘Ali’ Rivera emerged as one of the top prospects in the sport, the sense among his team was that he was ready for prime time.

An introduction to that stage comes this weekend, as the unbeaten 23-year-old lightweight enters his first scheduled 12-round affair. It comes versus Spain’s Jon Fernandez (21-1, 18KOs), with the two due to collide in a WBA lightweight title eliminator this Saturday on Showtime from Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.

"“I promise to deliver a memorable fight,” Rivera told BoxingScene.com. “Everyone will see boxing’s next superstar in the ring on July 3.”

The bout will open a Showtime tripleheader, with two live fights accompanied by the exclusive replay of the June 26 Showtime Pay-Per-View main event that saw Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis (25-0, 24KOs) knock out Mario Barrios in the 11th round of their secondary WBA junior welterweight title. Davis also holds a similar version of the lightweight title, thus among Rivera’s future targets along with WBA interim titlist Rolando ‘Rolly’ Romero and lineal champion Teofimo Lopez (16-0, 12KOs).

An important step comes in beating Fernandez and resonating with the fans. As he advances from prospect to contender, Rivera has adopted a new identity of sorts—no longer going by ‘La Zarza’ as he has reverted back to old references of ‘Ali.’

“Everyone around me claims that I resemble a young Cassius Clay, who of course became Muhammad Ali,” explains Rivera. “My coach (German Caicedo) always told me that from day one and it just stuck.”

It’s a fitting link; Caicedo is the last remaining disciple of Angelo Dundee, the late and legendary trainer of Ali throughout their respective Hall of Fame careers. Of course, Rivera and Caicedo have a long way to go before living up to that dynamic duo, hence the insistence to step up in competition.

The lightweight bout serves in supporting capacity to WBA interim junior lightweight titlist Chris Colbert (15-0, 6KOs) who faces 2012 Olympic Silver medalist and former featherweight title challenger Tugstsogt Nyambayar (12-1, 9KOs). Rivera is ready to steal the show and prove he’s worthy of the high standards he has set for himself.

“I am the next champion from Dominican Republic and the next lightweight champion,” Rivera vows. “I trust in my skills, my conditioning and my talent that I belong among the Top 5 at [lightweight] and want to make sure everyone knows my name."

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox