Eimantas Stanionis believes he has progressed beyond former amateur rival Gabriel Maestre ahead of their fight on Saturday.

The two fought in 2015 as amateurs, with Stanionis winning a narrow decision. 

Both figured they might meet at the Rio Olympics a year later, but Lithuania’s Stanionis and 37-year-old Venezuelan Maestre were both eliminated and Stanionis turned over in 2017 with Maestre following two years later.

“I think he is a great fighter,” admitted 29-year-old Stanionis, ahead of their clash at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. “We fought each other on the amateur scene in 2015 at the world championships in Qatar. 

“He is a good fighter with a lot of experience in the amateur scene, but this is now the professional scene and it’s a little different. 

“He only has had something like six or seven fights [Maestre is 6-0-1, 5 KOs], but he has been fast-tracked. He has not fought any low-level fighters on his fast track, and he knocked out the last prospect [Travon Marshall, 8-0] he fought despite being the underdog. So, you have to give him props for earning an opportunity at my title.”

Stanionis insists eight years is a long time and much has changed since they first shared a ring. While he rates Maestre highly, the Lithuanian says he has matured, he has developed, and he has learned plenty from sparring with some fabulous fighters.

“I’ve got much more man strength,” he went on. “When I was a kid, I was fighting at 69 kilos at 20 years old. I was a kid boxing at that weight. 

“I was a late grower. I was not like other 20-year-olds from, let’s say, Dagestan, where 20-year-olds have the man strength of a 30-year-old. I wasn’t the strongest, but now I have my man strength and more experience, which has come with age.

“Bad training camps, good training camps, good fights, you always get experience and you get wiser.“

Throughout his education, Stanionis has sparred with the likes of Jose Ramirez, Erislandy Lara, Shawn Porter and even Puerto Rican great Miguel Cotto.

“Those were good experiences,” said the WBA welterweight beltholder, who looked up to the likes of Mike Tyson, Marvin Hagler and Julio Cesar Chavez.

“I only trained one camp with him [Cotto]. We only sparred once together, but we did a lot of conditioning work, and he is a very nice guy. He is quiet, very disciplined and trains very hard.

“He is similar to me [in personality traits] in terms of energy. I don’t go to the gym to bullshit or talk because I go to the gym and get down to work. I do my business, rest, or do something else. 

“I like walking. I go to the gym, go home, rest, go for a walk, and then go back to the gym and go for a walk again. 

“I walk 10 miles a day. Yesterday, I walked 10 miles with my fiancé. I’m lucky she also likes walking and walks a lot with me.”

And while Stanionis considers Maestre “fast-tracked”, Stanionis has had the chance to learn against veterans on the way up, swapping punches with Thomas Dulorme and Luis Collazo on his way to an appearance on the Canelo Alvarez-Jaime Munguia bill in Las Vegas on Saturday.

“These guys have helped me a lot,” said Stanionis, who admitted he felt more nervous for his fights in the amateurs than he does in the pros. “In my last fight, I fought for a title and felt lots of pressure. I fought an undefeated, good guy [Radzhab Butaev, 14-0], and everyone was scared to fight him. In that fight, I did learn a lot. 

“I learned how to be under bright lights and how to handle my nerves. You can’t buy those things because you have to experience them to learn from them. 

“Some fighters freeze under the bright lights, and some learn to deal with it. I was good at dealing with that type of pressure.”