Haunted by regrets, Cacace's aiming to seal bright future
Anthony Cacace swipes away the sweat from his brow and reflects on a love-hate relationship with boxing that has lasted 20 years. It could end on Saturday night if - at last - we do not finally see the full blossoming of his God-given talent.
Growing up in west Belfast, Cacace, whose father Tony is from Italy, almost fell into the Oliver Plunkett gym where the legendary Patsy McAllister took him under his wing and turned him into a fine amateur. It all came very easily - maybe too easy for the boy who went on to win three Four Nations gold medals.
On Saturday night in Birmingham the 30-year-old finds himself at a crossroads when he challenges Sam Bowen for the British super-featherweight title. Seven years as a professional, spliced with too many periods of inactivity, has left him with nothing to show for his efforts. "If I lose I'm done because I can't afford to do this any more," says Cacace, with ice cold honesty.
"If I win this I'm a different man, it takes my career to a different level. It really is do or die because if I lose I just can't afford to put in the time and graft in a 10-week camp. I need to be providing for my family. I've got two kids and one on the way in January.
"Life as a professional boxer is not a stable way of living so if I lose I'll have to go and get a job. That's the reality.
"This is my hardest fight and also my highest profile fight so a win and I'm suddenly in the mix for really big fights and that's why I have done everything right to make sure I win."
Reflecting on his days as an amateur, Cacace admits that he could have given more and fell short of his true potential, while as a professional he has had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster despite only losing once in 18 bouts - a controversial points defeat at the hands of former champion Martin Ward.
The likeable Belfast man, whom Carl Frampton has described as having "world class ability" and power to match, now has an opportunity to draw a line under the past and give himself a bright future.
"The regrets I have do haunt me a bit… that's why this has to be different. Even as an amateur I was often half-baked and still won Ulster and Irish titles," said Cacace, who loved his time in the Plunkett club.
"The club was literally facing us but I never had much interest in boxing. I just went in one day with a pair of jeans with two of my mates, Paddy and Peter. I was put in for a spar and they asked me to come back the next night and within two weeks I had my medical and was fighting in my first championships. I loved it and two months after that I won my first Irish title.
"Patsy McAllister was like a second father. He and Anto Taylor used to come over and get me out of bed, they were great. I was winning everything and then it got to a point that I thought I was the man and I could do what I wanted and train when I wanted.
"I would decide to enter championships at two weeks notice which just wasn't good enough. If I'd really put in the right work I could have gone to the Olympics… and it's been a strange, often stale professional career. When I beat Ronnie Clark in 2015 I thought would get a British title fight but then it didn't happen and things went a bit wrong.
"Then came the Ward fight when I just cruised through it and didn't grab my chance the way I should have. That really hurt, I don't even want to think about it.
"It's all about Saturday night and I believe that I'm the more skilled fighter and I am ready to take the title."