It is almost nine years since Zelfa Barrett first headlined a professional show.

On Halloween night in 2015, Barrett’s fight with Ismail Anwar topped the bill at the Castle Leisure Centre in Bury.

The surroundings may have been modest but Barrett was the centre of attention and in his element. To the strains of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, he slowly made his way towards the ring through a cloud of dry ice. Anwar may have been seen as his first real step-up in opposition, but Barrett made short work of him, knocking him out in the second round with a stunning overhand right.

“I love it when all eyes are on me,” Barrett said.

“That’s when I perform.”

“It reminded me of when I boxed my first amateur fight at Crumpsall Labour Club. I didn’t think it was a big thing really, just a fight. I came out. Oh my God. Every man and his dog was there. Everybody was stood up banging on the walls. It was crazy.”

Barrett is now a regular on grander stages and on April 13 his super featherweight fight with Jordan Gill will headline at the famous Manchester Arena. 

At around 10.30pm on the night, the 30-year-old will get a knock on his dressing room door, walk through the long corridors inside the famous old venue and emerge to see thousands of his friends, family and fellow Mancunians. 

Whether it is the Castle Leisure Centre or Crumpsall Labour Club, Barrett loves being in the spotlight but topping the bill at his own city’s most iconic arena is something he has dreamt of since he was a youngster. This one does feel different. 

“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “I’ve heard that knock with Anthony Crolla. I’ve heard that knock with Scott Quigg. I’ve been in changing rooms and the guy comes in and tells them it’s time to go. He always gives them mad numbers, ‘Right, it’s time. You’ve got 17 seconds.’ I’m excited for that knock on the door.”

When the ring clears and the arena lights dim, the familiar faces will fade away and Barrett will have a confident and motivated Jordan Gill standing in front of him. Gill’s shocking but conclusive stoppage of Michael Conlan last December has given him a new lease of life and the move from featherweight to 130lbs has injected a new energy into his career. 

Barrett has already had one shot at a super featherweight world title. In 2022 he accepted a vacant IBF title fight with Shavkat Rakhimov on short notice. He performed well and dropped the Tajik fighter before tiring and being stopped in the ninth.

Things may change but – at the moment – the fight with Gill is an unofficial world title eliminator but the victor will be in line for a shot at a belt. With so much at stake, Barrett is determined not to get carried away by the occasion. If anything, the chance to prove just how good he is against a fighter who is coming into the contest with plenty of momentum and public support is the most exciting aspect of the whole event.

“You know what? Of course it means a lot [to be at home] but do you know what does it more? Fighting Gill,” he said. “I know he’s a good fighter. It’s given me that extra grit between my teeth. He’s got a good team behind him and I’m not going to make a mistake. I’m going to perform. If I don’t perform, he will try and beat me.

“He’s got ability. He’s good. He’s a good all rounder. I just believe I’m better than him in every department. I’m faster, stronger. If he wants to sharpshoot, we can sharpshoot because I believe I’m better. Speed, power. I just believe I’m better than him in every way.

“If he wants to box, I don’t mind having a boxing fight. I believe I’m one of the best boxers in the world so if he wants to do that I’m good at that too. I’m an all rounder. Whatever he brings, I’ll have answers for it.”