For eight years, Liam Paro’s life was consumed not by boxing but rugby league. Yes, the same rugby league that can often be confused with watching a car crash.

Over and over and over again.

“Look, there’s a lot less injuries in boxing, I believe,” said a laughing Paro, who put aside his cleats (see, there is no equipment to hang up) for boxing gloves as a teenager. “[Rugby league] is a tough sport, but it just shows that we’re brought up tough over there. There's no helmets, no padding, and it’s exciting to watch.”

That it is, but considering that Queensland’s Paro is 24-0 with 15 KOs as a pro boxer and about to make his first challenge for a world title this Saturday against IBF junior welterweight champion Subriel Matias, it’s safe to say that the 28-year-old made the right decision.

“This is what you dream about as a kid,” said Paro. “Title intentions, winning titles and fighting the big names. So I get to do this and I’m excited. I love the big tests and I’ve completed every other one of the 24 tests before and it’s time for the big one. I'm ready.”

It’s hard to argue with Paro’s track record and being deserving of a shot against the Puerto Rico native. Yet despite winning his last four fights (including an impressive sixth-round knockout of Montana Love last December) over opponents with a combined record of 70-2-2, he travels to “La Isla del Encanto” as a sizable underdog.

“I believe he is overlooking me a bit,” said Paro. “I believe everyone has my whole career, and just Australians, in general. But look, it’s up to him how he perceives me. We never overlook no opponent. We take every opponent the same, train 110 percent for everyone because you’ve seen fights where people overlook people, and the boxing gods have their own way of working. I’m hoping we get 100 percent Matias. I know I’m bringing 100 percent to this fight and I’m more than ready for the task ahead.”

Paro makes a good point when it comes to the fight community and oddsmakers often dismissing Aussie fighters, despite the success in the last few years of Tim Tszyu, the Moloney brothers and others. And though Paro finished the last five weeks of his camp in Florida, he believes it is possible to make it to the elite level and stay there while training Down Under.

“Definitely, but I need the belts to have that pull,” he said. “I can bring the big fights back to Australia, back to Queensland, and of course that’s what I want to do. But you have to expand your wings a little bit to open up the doors and make these opportunities for yourself.”

Going into a champion’s backyard and taking his title by force is a good way to smash down some doors, and beating Matias would send plenty of shockwaves through the boxing community. But Paro can expect to be fighting Matias, the crowd and perhaps the judges when he steps into the ring at Coliseo Juan Aubin Cruz Abreu in Manati. So is he ready to be the bad guy?

“I wouldn't say bad guy,” he said with a laugh. “I'm not really a bad guy.”

Fair enough. How about the guy with the black hat?

“I don't mind. I just love proving people wrong and feel like I’m going to do that this fight. I always stay humble. I’ve been like that my whole career and I’m not going to change.”

Being humble isn’t a knock on Paro’s confidence, though, and he fully expects to leave Puerto Rico with an extra carry-on bag. But can he do it? Matias is a legitimate star on the rise and the favorite for a reason. Then again, he’s fighting at home, all eyes are on him and he’s been caught napping before by the man who handed him the lone loss of his pro career in 2020, Petros Ananyan. Matias avenged that loss by knockout two years later, but a precedent was set that Paro isn’t counting on yet wouldn’t mind seeing repeated.

“I believe the pressure’s on him with this being his homecoming fight,” Paro said of Matias. “He’s going to want to perform for his people. We’ve got no pressure. I don’t think no Australian ever has gone to Puerto Rico itself to win a title from the champion; it’s going to be making history and it’s going to be massive. And not just for me, but for my family, my loved ones, and it’s a step in the right direction to a better future for everyone. So it’s exciting. But more than anything, I know the task I’ve got ahead – I’m just keen to get in there and shock the world.”