Maxi Hughes’ former trainer Gary Lockett believes Hughes will prove a tougher challenge for William Zepeda off the back of his fight with George Kambosos Jr.

The 34 year old on Saturday fights Zepeda at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, and largely because of the extent to which his reputation was enhanced when he fought Kambosos Jr in July.

Kambosos Jr, of Australia, was awarded a majority decision that night, but many observers believed the scores to be unjust and that Hughes was instead a deserved winner – and it is partly for that reason that Lockett expects him to be improved.

Since working with Hughes, Lockett has watched his former fighter learn from defeat – such as that inflicted in 2019 by Liam Walsh – and he believes that not only will he have learned again from his fight with Kambosos Jr, but that his once low confidence will be enhanced as a consequence of his performance against the Australian and his belief that he won.

“I had a phone call off Maxi going back about three months before he fought Kambosos,” Lockett said. “He’d had an offer to fight a certain person, and an offer to fight Kambosos. I said, ‘Everyday of the week – fight Kambosos. Take the fight with him. What’s the money like?’ ‘It’s not bad, but it’s not brilliant.’ ‘You go over there – you got the ability and the awkwardness to cause him fits.’ 

“It turns out he did a lot better than I thought he was gonna do. I knew he was gonna give him problems. People use the term ‘Awkward southpaw’. Not every southpaw’s awkward. But he is awkward, the way he moves, and he gave him fits. I thought he won the fight comfortably. 

“We had a nice conversation, and my advice turned out to be what he thought he should do, and he ended up boxing him and doing really well. As well as he did in that fight – that’s why he’s in the position he is now, because he’s highly ranked by the organisations – who’s to say that he can’t do the business on the weekend?

“I certainly helped his confidence. He was looking at Gavin Rees and going, ‘Wow’. I said, ‘Stop going wow – you’re good enough to be in this gym; don’t tell yourself any different’, and I think he improved a great deal while he was there. 

“A loss doesn’t always finish you. He’s had quite a few defeats and he’s come out the back end an even better fighter than he’s ever been.

“Look what he did to the guy. Okay, he ‘lost’ the fight, and everyone can pretend – Kambosos’ people and trainers – he didn’t lose the fight but he lost that fight fair and square, and you could see the look on his face at the end. You knew that he’d been bamboozled. Maxi certainly goes into the fight with a lot more confidence. You’ll see a better Maxi Hughes in this fight than you saw against Kambosos.

“Not everybody can travel and win. You see guys who are brilliant in their own country and their own backyard and then they have to travel and it just takes something away from them. Maxi’s shown that he’s travelled and he’s got robbed blind. 

“[Zepeda’s] a puncher. But we’ve seen [Hughes] against punchers a couple of times and he seems to bamboozle them. He does this one-two right hook thing; rolls out; steps out; leaves the left hooker in the dust. He often does it. I’m confident he can do the business.”

Mexico’s Zepeda, 27, is undefeated. His fellow lightweight Kambosos Jr was rewarded for his decision over Hughes with a fight on May 12 against the great Vasiliy Lomachenko in Perth.

“He looked a genius the night he beat Teofimo Lopez, and people say that there was something wrong with Lopez in the lead up and what have you, and that Lopez underestimated him,” Lockett continued of Kambosos Jr. 

“For whatever reason that night was his best night; I don’t think he’s ever going to be that good again, but Maxi had to travel to beat him and he’s a very capable fighter. He beat Lee Selby as well – Lee Selby was no mug; I don’t think he was at his best then; he was on his way down; but Kambosos performed well and beat him. This might be a taller task, but Maxi’s up to it.

“Could be [that Hughes has lost the element of surprise], but let’s hope not. Let’s hope that he does it and the right man wins on the scorecards this time. 

“Lomachenko, absolutely [is the favourite against Kambosos Jr]. But this guy has been the victim of debatable decisions a couple of times. If it goes the distance – Lomachenko might have to get a stoppage in order to win [in Australia], so I can see a controversial win for Kambosos.”