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Meli determined to step out of the shadows and on to world stage

 

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Show time: Fredo Meli knows this is a huge opportunity

Show time: Fredo Meli knows this is a huge opportunity

�William Cherry / Presseye

Show time: Fredo Meli knows this is a huge opportunity

Fredo Meli doesn't do hype. So laid back he is almost horizontal, the Belfast man has chalked up 17 wins with barely a ripple of appreciation

On Saturday night, he hopes that will change - that his career will be elevated to a new level when he faces unbeaten Danny Dignum for the WBO European title.

The Holiday Inn on the Ormeau Road was the humble venue for his debut in 2012. Along the way he enjoyed a chink of the spotlight in an entertaining draw with Conrad Cummings five years ago in the glamorous surrounds of the Waterfront Hall before largely slipping back into the shadows.

There was further illumination for the 29-year-old middleweight last summer when as part of the undercard to Michael Conlan's Falls Park spectacle he happened to enjoy the finest victory of his career so far.

Even he didn't realise it until back in his changing room when the amateur pedigree of Germany's Ariak Marutjan was explained to him.

Marutjan's German backers wanted to know how good their unbeaten prospect was and so decided to see how he'd handle Meli. The script was torn up as the car mechanic living just a mile from the venue outpointed the world bronze medallist.

"I didn't know anything about the guy and then I got told afterwards how good he was. It made the win mean a lot more," admitted father-of-three Meli.

"A lot of people were coming up to me in the street after that fight, saying how well I boxed. I was surprised at first but it was nice to have that support, to know they enjoyed the fight.

"I had expected to be fighting before Christmas but that didn't happen - that's professional boxing and that's why I've had to keep working at the cars, to keep bringing in the money to feed my family.

"But I know now that this fight with Dignum can really change things for me because he has this title and it would give me a top-15 world ranking.

"That would mean I could realistically start thinking about the possibility of a world title fight. I have to deal with Dignum first but I believe my aggression will be too much for him and I know if I need to box I have that in my locker as well."

Having been employed full-time as a mechanic throughout his professional career when purse money was small, Meli decided - with the backing of wife Aisling - to become self-employed on the back of that win in August, giving him a little more flexibility when it came to training. The title challenger insists, though, that working with cars has always been part of his training regime.

"I enjoy working with the cars, it's all physical work and it's like other boxers doing their strength and conditioning - that's the way it works out for me," added Meli, who has been at the Immaculata club in the lower Falls throughout his whole career with legendary coach Nugget Nugent.

"Being self-employed, I'm able to devote more time to boxing. I've been working out twice a day and the sparring I've had for this fight has been great, working with the likes of Paddy McCrory, Steven Donnelly and Luke Keeler.

"We have a game plan for Dignum - I saw his last fight when he beat Conrad Cummings so I know what to expect.

"I've really knuckled down because I know how big an opportunity this is. It's the biggest chance of my career so far and it can set me up for a very big year."

Belfast Telegraph