THE last time Maxi Hughes fought in America he left disappointed and said that three judges “broke his heart”. Yet the good news is that a broken heart isn’t enough to stop the Rossington lightweight returning on Saturday night (March 16), this time to face the unbeaten William Zepeda.

Having agreed to return, Hughes will of course believe he has unfinished business and will be hoping to fix all that broke him first time around. He is also of the belief that the opportunities that should have been his have instead gone to George Kambosos, the Australian whom two ringside judges decided had beaten Hughes in July.

Since that night in Shawnee, Hughes has been made to wait, wishing for but not expecting a rematch with Kambosos. Kambosos, meanwhile, is now getting ready for a fight in May which will take place in Australia, his home country, and see him fight Vasiliy Lomachenko for the vacant IBF lightweight belt.

That is exactly the kind of opportunity Hughes, 26-6-2 (5), would have liked – and will feel he deserved. Instead, rather than fighting a legend of the sport in his home country, Hughes has been forced to go down a different route – a tougher, less glamorous route – and will, if just for motivation, need to remind himself that this is, for him, not a path unfamiliar.

Indeed, a fight like this one, against Zepeda in Las Vegas, is the sort of underdog-on-away-ground scenario to which Hughes has grown accustomed over the years. Even the location, The Cosmopolitan, is perhaps not the location which immediately springs to mind when one thinks of a fight in Las Vegas, and nor will this fight, as good as it is, deliver Hughes the fanfare he would have expected following 12 successful rounds in the company of Kambosos.

Rather than that, Hughes is back to square one in many ways; meaning he must beat Zepeda to then land the big fight he has for so long craved. This doesn’t make the Zepeda fight any less interesting or challenging, mind you. In fact, from Hughes’ point of view, it would be wise to remember that even a fight like this, against an unbeaten rising star in Las Vegas, is a world away from losing against Liam Walsh at York Hall. That Hughes has managed to reach this point, winning seven of eight fights since that Walsh loss, is a real testament to his determination and improvement. Moreover, the fact he still wants more can be considered a testament to his newfound ambition and drive.

As for Zepeda, Hughes will encounter an opponent whose record, statistically, makes for scary reading. At 29-0, with 25 knockouts, Zepeda carries a reputation for power and a southpaw stance which only serves to make this power all the sneakier and more unique. He has also stepped up in class in recent times and is now fighting in the US as opposed to Mexico, his home country; adding to his list of victims men like Mercito Gesta (KO 6) and Joseph Diaz (W UD). To show similar dominance against someone like Hughes, a man renowned for his durability and defensive smarts, would be quite the statement, but it is no doubt a statement Zepeda, from San Mateo Atenco, will be eager to make.

Hughes, a fellow southpaw, will believe he has seen it all before. Now 34, he has certainly come up against a vast array of styles and personalities and for the most part figured them out. He has been stopped just twice as a pro (by Sam Bowen in eight rounds and Martin J Ward in five) and even those stoppages came at a time when Hughes was still very much learning – both in terms of acquiring skills and the level of his own ambition. He was, in other words, not the same fighter back then as he is today.

Today, Hughes is a southpaw whose lack of knockout power – just five stoppages in 26 wins – does absolutely nothing to prevent him winning fights, so refined are his skills. Poised and patient, he backs himself today in a way he never did previously and has no fear of standing in front of an opponent and making them both miss and look silly. This he has done to varying degrees against fighters like Kid Galahad, Ryan Walsh, Jovanni Straffon, and yes, George Kambosos, all of whom bring him to Zepeda on Saturday.

Now, in what acts as an eliminator for the WBA and IBF lightweight titles, never will the disparity in power between two boxers be more apparent; at least on paper. In Hughes, you have a boxer always expected to go the distance, whether in victory or defeat, and in Zepeda, you have someone who has gone the distance just twice in his last 19 fights. That doesn’t mean Saturday’s fight will be decided simply by punch power, but it would be worth noting that Hughes, despite his great run of form, has not been threatened by men who possess power comparable to Zepeda’s.

That said, Straffon, another Mexican southpaw, was arguably the biggest hitter Hughes has faced in recent years and we all know how the Yorkshireman dealt with him. Now do the same against Zepeda on a much bigger stage, and with more at stake, and Hughes will surely be in line to receive what he has long deserved. Yet, for as much as that seems like the way his story should end, we know how unforgiving a sport like boxing can often be and therefore it is hard to see past Zepeda winning this fight, most likely by decision.