Muhamad Ridhwan packed his bags 21/2 years ago and left for the Philippines to test his mettle and find out if he has what it takes to make it in professional boxing.
The Singaporean lived in a cramped, ramshackle dormitory in Cebu alongside dozens of aspiring young Filipino fighters for three months, before finally making his pro debut at an event there.
Today, he is a challenger for the International Boxing Organisation (IBO) world featherweight (57kg) title.
The IBO world title is considered the biggest title outside of the four main organisations - the World Boxing Council (WBC), World Boxing Federation (WBF), International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Association (WBA).
Former IBO world champions include Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Wladimir Klitschko, Ricky Hatton and Lennox Lewis.
No Singaporean professional boxer has ever been in contention for a title of this magnitude.
Ridhwan earned a shot at the IBO world featherweight belt after beating Filipino southpaw Jeson Umbal with a majority decision (117-111, 116-112, 114-114) at the Roar of Singapore IV at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday night.
Muhamad Ridhwan improved his IBO world ranking from 58 to 37.
The biggest fight of his career is set to take place in September.
The victory also saw him improve his world ranking from 58 to 37, but he knows he needs to improve even more before he is ready to challenge for the world title.
"I will need to be at my best, I need to get better, and I hope I get a few more fights to do that before I fight for the belt," he told The Sunday Times after securing the IBO intercontinental title.
His coach, former Philippine light flyweight amateur champion Rey Caitom Jr, agreed.
"Our goal is to maintain Ridhwan's overall style, but also add more power so he can really hurt his opponent," said the 32-year-old. "Against Umbal, he showed his maturity and experience, and that he can execute a game plan well.
"We just have to keep training and keep winning."
Ridhwan's opponent in September will be the winner of the July 15 bout between unbeaten Filipino fighter Jhack Tepora (21 wins) and Mexican Edivaldo Ortega (26 wins, one loss, one draw).
Tepora and Ortega will vie for the belt, which is vacant, on the card headlined by a bout between Pacquaio and Lucas Matthysse for the WBA welterweight title in Kuala Lumpur.
ST understands that Scott O' Farrell, founder of the Ringstar promotion Ridhwan is signed to, is trying to get the Singaporean to fight on the undercard as well.
If anything, it will allow Ridhwan a chance to scout his future opponent. Like Umbal, Tepora is also a southpaw and a power puncher, with 16 knockout wins. Ortega has managed 12 KO wins.
Ridhwan (7 KOs) tried to rope Tepora in as a sparring partner before Friday night's fight, but talks fell through.
Tepora (ranked 26th in the world), and Ortega (16th) have far more experience than Ridhwan, and while the Singaporean knows this, he is proud with how he handled the threat posed by Umbal.
Umbal was ranked 49th heading into their bout - nine places above Ridhwan - and had claimed 11 of his 16 wins by knockout, earning him the nickname "Dynamite Fist".
But Ridhwan executed his game plan soundly, eventually controlling the range and avoiding meaningful strikes from Umbal's powder-keg left hand, to extend his unbeaten streak to 10.
"Boxing is not just about knockouts," he said. "It's also about being mature and patient. We showed we can handle a 12-round bout better now than in the last fight (against Nataneal Sebastian which Ridhwan won via unanimous decision).
"I took my time and didn't succumb to pressure from the crowd. This time, I was constantly thinking in the ring, and aware of every moment."