Michael Zerafa insists his world title ambitions remain intact despite an unconvincing points win over Italian Danilo Creati in Sydney.
Hoping to take on boxing superstar Gennady Golovkin for the Kazakh's two middleweight world titles in Australia next March, Zerafa conceded fighting Creati on Wednesday night was a risk.
And so it proved as the previously unbeaten Creati proved more than a handful for Australia's world No.1-ranked WBA middleweight contender.
The Sydney-based European had vowed to shatter Zerafa's world title dream, deriding the Victorian as a "loser" and claiming his long amateur career in his native homeland would come to the fore.
He landed some good blows, seemed to enjoy himself trying to pull off an upset and even drew encouraging chants of "Danilo, Danilo, Danilo" from spectators at the Aware Super Theatre.
Despite going the full 10 rounds, though, and denying Zerafa a 20th knockout win, the favourite did enough to deny Creati while improving his record to 31-4 and remaining on track for a mooted high-stakes showdown with Golovkin.
The three judges awarded the fight 98-93, 99-91, 98-92 to Zerafa, who admitted he struggled to put Creati away after a less-than-ideal four-week preparation.
"It was a pretty shitty performance from my end," Zerafa said.
"No excuses but I got the W. It was just tougher than I thought."
The Melbourne slugger this month claimed he'd reached a "verbal agreement" with Golovkin, a former pound-for-pound world No.1.
But the fight has yet to be locked in.
"It's in the making. There's negotiations happening," Zerafa maintained on Wednesday night.
If not Golovkin, Zerafa said his team was also in talks with Cuban-American two-weight world champion Erislandy Lara.
Zerafa said a spicy showdown with Tim Tszyu could also "100 per cent" be back on the cards if his countryman loses his unified super-welterweight world title clash with American Jermell Charlo in Las Vegas in January.
Tszyu last week told AAP he'd never again give Zerafa a chance following Zerafa's last-minute no-show last year.
But Zerafa reckons Tszyu may have no other choice.
"Tim Tszyu will bring the best out of me," he said.
"Credit to Creati but he was a level below me, a couple of levels below me and I dropped to his level. I tried to play his game.
"But because of my experience and my boxing IQ, I did enough to win.
"But Tim Tszyu, once he gets flattened and bowled over by Charlo, where's he going to go?
"He's going to come back to Sydney and he needs an opponent. Who's he going to fight?
"I'm on to bigger and better things. I'm coming off a win. He's going to come off a loss and my name's back in his mouth.
"Tim Tszyu-Zerafa. Zerafa-Tim Tszyu, same shit all over again."