Johnny Fisher sacrificed a First in his university degree to spar Joe Joyce in Las Vegas instead - that brave decision can be vindicated as he gets set for his pro boxing debut.
'The Romford Bull' is a heavyweight with limited amateur experience whose background came in "smashing" people on the university rugby pitch.
Before Fisher's pro debut on February 20, live on Sky Sports on the undercard to Josh Kelly vs David Avanesyan, he explains his unusual journey…
You were a rugby player until recently?
Fisher: I've been involved in boxing since I was six or seven years old. But in sixth form and at Exeter University, I played rugby. It was only through chance that I fell back into boxing.
In my second year of university, I contacted Sam Jones [of S-JAM Boxing, who became his manager] to ask: 'Do you need any sparring for Joe Joyce?'
I sparred well. Then I went again and sparred well again.
Next thing I knew, at Christmas 2019, I was invited to spar Joyce in his camp to fight Daniel Dubois.
We built a good relationship.
You were warned that sparring Joyce would cost you a First in your uni degree…
Fisher: I was on track for a First in my assessments but [chose to go to Vegas to spar Joe Joyce]. I had to write my dissertation and do my assessments after sparring!
I needed to be in the library for the resources. I chose to take a chance because a 2:1 is still a great result. I had to sacrifice a First but you've got to take chances in life.
I studied history and graduated last summer. I did my dissertation on the aerial bombing of Germany in 1944-45.
History is something else I really enjoy. The backing of a degree and a university experience puts me in good stead to really focus on my boxing career. It shows I can stick at something, and that I am dedicated.
Tell us about your rugby career…
Fisher: I was second row or No 8 forward. I just loved running with the ball and smashing into people!
I've always had that physical side to me. It was a high level - [the university] feeds into the Exeter Chiefs who are the Premiership champions. To mix it with them gave me a good grounding in high-level sport.
But boxing has always been in your blood?
Fisher: My dad boxed for the Repton [the London amateur gym]. My grandad was a casual boxer but was more of a wrestling fan.
Where I'm from in east London, boxing is a big part of the community. It's a hotspot for boxing - my brothers both do it, my little sister has a go too.
Joe Joyce has his sights set on Oleksandr Usyk - how good is he?
Fisher: Joe is the closest thing I've seen in real-life to a human wrecking machine.
He is a good friend now who gave me an opportunity to spar. For me to gain experience sparring Joe, Hughie Fury and Dave Allen has really honed my skills.
In sparring, you can feel Joe's force and it has brought my strength along too.
He also comes from a rugby background so we both have brute strength.
But people don't give Joe enough credit for his boxing brain and skill. He reads people extremely well and that paid off in the Dubois fight.
Apparently, Joyce says you punch harder than Dubois…
Fisher: I spoke to Joe after and he said it. Dubois deserves huge credit for stepping in to fight Joe.
To have a compliment like this gives me great confidence because Dubois is a great fighter and if I can emulate what he has done, I would be a very happy man.
How important is your trainer Mark Tibbs?
Fisher: Mark and his dad Jimmy are well-known around these parts as great boxing trainers.
He improved Dillian Whyte after the loss to Anthony Joshua and got him to world level.
You haven't had much of an amateur career…
Fisher: I've had four senior fights - I won three via first-round knockout then lost the last one via split decision. I learned a lot from that fight; how to be relaxed, use skills, and not just steamroll through everyone. But I know that I have huge power which I can use to my advantage.
Can you deal with the expectation as a new heavyweight prospect?
Fisher: I'm lucky to have a great support network. There is a buzz which is understandable. But I know what level I'm at - I've never made any affirmations that I'm better than what I am.
It's a long journey ahead but I have good fundamentals to give it my best shot. I've got nothing to lose.
Six months ago, I was helping my dad selling meat from the back of a van, just trying to survive through lockdown.
What is your boxing dream?
Fisher: No matter what I do, I want to get to the top. I know it's a long way off. But why not go as far as you can? My limit might be British, English, or European title. I've got a long way to go but I want to get to the top of the heavyweight mountain - that will always be a dream of mine.