Anthony Cacace has waited for his big opportunity, so it’s time to make the night his against Joe Cordina on Saturday

IBF Super-featherweight title
Joe Cordina v Anthony Cacace (Saturday, live on PPV from 5pm)
THE opportunity for Anthony Cacace is as big as the stage on Saturday night as the West Belfast man bids to dethrone IBF super-featherweight champion, Joe Cordina.

This match-up may be greatly overshadowed by Saturday’s main event at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk battle it out to decide once and for all, just which of the pair is the number one heavyweight on the planet, but it doesn’t lessen the intrigue of a fight that could be a main event in its own right.

That Cacace is here is testament to his perseverance as at times, if it weren’t for back luck, he’d have had none.

A narrow defeat to Martin J Ward in 2017 with the British and Commonwealth titles on offer - his only reverse in 22 fights - relegated him firmly into the ‘who needs him?’ club, a form of boxing purgatory where a fighter deemed high risk and low reward can fester until retirement. The only way out is by forcing the hand of a champion, working into a mandatory position as he did to claim the British strap with a battling win over Sam Bowen two years later.

But the setbacks kept on coming, finally defending and winning against Leon Woodstock after a amber of false starts, before a fight versus Jhonatan Romero at Wembley Stadium in April 2022 that fell apart as the Columbian couldn’t obtain a visa.

That may have been the straw to break the camel’s back, but Cacace would be given a way back in when IBO champion Michael Magnesi put his belt on the line later in the year that Cacace ripped from the Italian.

A successful defence against Damian Wrzesinski almost a year ago was his last outing as a broken wrist forced Cacace out of a fight with Ryan Garner, but the big opportunity finally arrived with Joe Cordina agreeing to defend against the Belfast man.

Of course, the card was delayed by three months due to Fury sustaining a cut in sparring and here they are, ready to step through the ropes on a night in which the lights will never be brighter.

“I’ve paid my dues to this game over and over,” said Cacace.

“I turned over when I was 22 or 23 and I’m 35 before I get my world title shot.

“I’ve aways been ranked well, was in the top 10 in Britain since I was 23 and had to get myself into the mandatory position to get these names. I had to get mandatory for Martin J Ward as he wouldn’t fight me, had to get mandatory for Sam Bowen.

“The only opportunity I got given was the Magnesi one and that’s because they thought they were going to walk through me. Joe thinks he’s going to walk through me too, but we’ll just have to see.”

Cordina has won the IBF title twice. In 2022, he did indeed walk through opposition, scoring a stunning second-round knockout of Japan’s Kenichi Ogawa in Cardiff, but was inexplicably stripped as injury prevented him from defending against Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov within the mandated time.

Instead, Rakhimov picked up the vacant strap with a stoppage win over Zelfa Barrett before Cordina was granted his chance to regain, which he did, coming through a war against the Tajik before improving his record to 17-0 with a points win over Edward Vazquez, although he failed to impress on this occasion.

“I watched the Rakhimov fight and I thought he was excellent, but I didn’t watch his last fight in Monte Carlo (against Vazquez),” Cacace revealed.

“People have told me (it wasn’t a great performance) but I don’t want to go on and have a look to downplay him. In my head, he’s a superstar and that’s how I’m approaching this. I’m going to have to go and get him.

“Victory here makes me a superstar and also secures my family’s future and a better home.”

At 32, Cordina is three years Cacace’s junior, has proven he had grit, skill, power and a good chin.

However, there are questions as to whether making the super-featherweight limit of 130lbs is beginning to tell and when it’s considered he is a former British and Commonwealth lightweight champion, boiling his big frame down may just be starting to catch-up and perhaps was a factor in his under-par performance against Vazquez.

But Cacace is not pinning all his hopes on the Cardiff man being drained, instead training for the best version of Cordina there is as to claim world honours, he knows he needs to go better than he has done in the past.

“He is a big super-featherweight, started at lightweight and won the British title before moving down,” he noted.

“I’m not sure how that affects him now. Everyone tells you he struggles at super-feather, but so do I. We’re two big lads, so may the best man win.

“He is slicker, the better counterpuncher and has more speed, but anything can happen and I’m not worried. I’m going in with an underdog mentality.

“If I put pressure on myself, I would be doing myself an injustice as everybody thinks I’m going to get beat, so I need that (underdog) mentality. That’s not me being negative, but how I’m looking at it.”

There have been changes to the team with Michael Hawkins Snr now the main voice in his corner, joining his son, Michael Jnr who remains with the team.

The veteran Holy Trinity coach has always been strictly tied to the amateur code, but he and Cacace go way back and once his former charge asked him to come in for this night of nights, there was only one answer.

Hawkins knows Cacace inside out, knows what makes him tick and what buttons to push, so having that wealth of experience from a savvy operator was a no-brainer for the title challenger.

“I was advised to take on a bit more experience and I don’t think you get more experienced than him,” Cacace explained.

“There were others I could have went to, in England or wherever, but I like being at home. Micky doesn’t take pros, so he’s done me a good turn.”

Defending champion Joe Cordina is perfect through 17 fights

Defending champion Joe Cordina is perfect through 17 fights

Another former Holy Trinity man, Sean McComb produced a career-best performance three weeks ago in New York against Arnold Barboza, but it mattered little as the ringside judges didn’t agree with what the overwhelming majority in the arena and on TV had witnessed, giving the home fighter the decision.

Cacace is well aware that as the challenger, the benefit of the doubt is unlikely to come his way, so an emphatic win is firmly on his mind.

Those hand and wrist injuries that have hampered him in the past have cleared and he believes this will translate into a return of his noted punching power, a weapon that could be crucial to earn Cordina’s respect and perhaps prove the winning and losing of this fight.

He will have to go to the well on Saturday, dig deeper than he has ever done, but there is an air of quiet confidence the disappointments of the past will be banished forever and a man with a reputation of being Belfast’s most underrated talent can finally announce himself and claim the rewards that go with it.

“There is no chance in hell I’m winning this on points,” he admits.

“Let’s not beat about the bush as we know what the craic is: He is the man on the poster, but where am I on it? This fight is all built around him, so if I were to beat him on points, it would be the shock of shocks as he is supposed to be the better boxer.

“I’m a big underdog and not many are going me a shot. One thing I haven’t shown over the past while because of hand injuries is my knockout power. If I touch anyone right, then that can be it.

“Cordina is struggling at the weight, so he could box the ears off me for 11 rounds, but all I need is that one shot.

“It all depends on who turns up on the night. I didn’t do all this work for nothing, so I’m going in with a game-plan and I know what I need to do.”

This is the opportunity Anthony Cacace has waited for. He knows he must grab it with both hands.