It has been more than two decades since Yusaf Mack began learning boxing in West Philadelphia, but he finally has a shot at a world title on June 25.
For Mack, his fight against champion Tavoris Cloud, with the IBF light-heavyweight title on the line, could be the peak of a professional fighting career that began in 2000 and still has Philadelphia ties.
It will also be a chance for Mack to fulfill a dream left behind by his father, Terry Smith.
"My dad passed away about two years ago. On his deathbed he was like, he wanted me to be world champ, so I promised him that," Mack said Tuesday night. "That's what I've got to do."
In promotional photos, Mack, 31, poses in a black boxing robe with the words "Dad RIP" over his heart in silver letters.
Mack began fighting at age 7. He grew up in West Philadelphia watching and idolizing Philly's Bernard Hopkins, and still trains there, at the James Shuler Memorial Gym.
"He's an elusive boxer-puncher," said Percy Custus, Mack's manager and trainer. "I want him to fight the best guy that's out there right now."
To win the title, Mack (29-3-2, 17 knockouts) will have to hand the 29-year-old Cloud his first defeat.
Cloud is 22-0 with 18 KOs. This will be his third defense of the IBF light-heavyweight title.
If Mack can beat him and win that world title, he said, he'll "just cry."
He leaves Thursday for the Poconos to live in relative quiet for his last stretch of training before leaving for the fight in St. Charles, Mo.
Win or lose, Mack said he's interested in eventually moving into mixed martial arts fighting.
"I like it because it's rough, it's brutal," Mack said, sipping on a plastic cup of ice water at the 879 Lounge in Old City.
Fran Evans, a Philadelphia-based MMA promoter, said he'd like to have Mack on a card within six months, and possibly as soon as August if he wins the IBF title.
"We want him to get through this fight and not worry about nothing other than that right now, because it's the biggest fight of his life," Evans said.