The man who helped kick-start Horn's meteoric boxing rise

Vince Rugari

Almost every fight in Jeff Horn's professional boxing career has been part of a larger plan.

Every opponent he has faced has been selected for a reason - to get him to the top of the sport as quickly as possible, and make sure he is as ready as he could possibly be for that defining period of time.

That moment has arrived.

Horn's first mandatory defence of his WBO welterweight championship on Sunday (AEST) is, by far, the biggest test of his career.

Manny Pacquiao was big, sure, but the Filipino great was several years past his prime and it went down at Suncorp Stadium, Horn's beloved home turf.

Terence Crawford in Las Vegas is a different level. The 30-year-old from Omaha, Nebraska is at his peak. He oozes class. His record is blemish-free. His technical skills are nearly flawless.

He's got more hand speed than a Michelin star chef, of which you'll find plenty in this town.

In Vegas, Bob Arum's Top Rank promotions and broadcasting behemoth ESPN have pulled out every stop imaginable to give Crawford the edge so he can become the new face of US boxing.

Bookmakers are offering 5-1 odds for Horn to win. They've come in a long way, but it's clear that the incumbent champion is a massive underdog.

Crawford and Horn stare each other down ahead of their title fight. Pic: Getty

Stuart Duncan, however, gives him a red-hot chance.

Duncan is the man who convinced Duco Events to take a punt on Horn in the first place when they scoured Australia looking for a boxer to headline their push into the country.

He set in motion one of the great Australian sporting stories of the modern era.

He's the guy who helped pick all Horn's opponents but now that he's got the belt, you don't always get to pick them, and you certainly wouldn't pick one like Crawford.

Nevertheless, Duncan is tipping Horn to win via stoppage in round six or seven.

"I don't like to get too cocky," he told reporters in Las Vegas.

"I pay the respect to Crawford, he's undefeated in 32 fights.

"But I'm more confident with this fight than I was with the Manny Pacquiao fight."

Duncan is one of the lesser-known parts of the Horn machine.

Originally from Melbourne, Duncan has been in the boxing game for 20 years and is currently Duco's highly-respected matchmaker.

When Sylvester Stallone started up his TV series The Contender in 2004, he approached Duncan for help.

Duncan is methodical, almost surgical in his research. He believed Horn could beat Pacquiao and everyone thought he was crazy.

He believes he can beat Crawford, too.

Nobody else in the US does. Most pundits are utterly condescending towards Horn, as if he's a dinner guest who was never invited and still overstayed his welcome. But Duncan says he has an X-factor like no other.

The easiest way to explain it, he says, is to go to BoxRec, the online bible of boxing data and records, and look up their welterweight rankings. At the top is Jeff Horn.

"There's no brown paper bags of cash you can give to BoxRec to get your rating," Duncan said.

"Now, why is it Jeff Horn? It's because of the quality of opponents that he's faced.

"We tried to mix it up as much as we possibly could to best prepare him for potentially what lay ahead. As it turns out, it did lay ahead.

"We became more convinced every time we put him in the ring, because we would mix it up."

Some critics, Duncan notes, are starting to warm to Horn.

"What's happened is now everyone is starting to take a closer look at Jeff Horn. And the tide is turning," he said.

"You hear a lot of people who've actually changed their opinion and changed their tune.

"I've taken great delight in putting them up on my Facebook wall, saying 'another one, and another one, and another one.'"

Duncan has looked through 10 of what he deems to be Crawford's most relevant fights. After watching a fight once, he makes notes, watches it again, and then repeats the whole process again.

He writes down his findings on a giant whiteboard, sits back and thinks.

All up, it took him 41 hours. But he believes he and trainer Glenn Rushton have found a way to win.

"It took a while but we figured it out," Duncan said.

"I've worked with a lot of world-class coaches over a long period of time. Tactically he is one of the best. He is seriously good.

"We've identified the weaknesses in his style. If you look at the people he's fought, there are ways to create chinks in the armour.

"And we know how to expose more. There's unchartered water, there's things that boxers haven't done.

"I see Jeff clipping him early and when he does clip him early - I'm not saying he's going to knock him out early - that's going to change the flow of the fight.

"And I believe Jeff can grind him down by round six or seven. That's my honest opinion. I really believe he can do it."