Jeff Horn didn’t know it, but the door he was about to walk through would change his life.
The softly spoken kid was just 18 and had been bullied at school when he entered Glenn Rushton’s Brisbane gym, just wanting to learn how to look after himself.
A decade later, he has been an Olympian, unbeaten as a professional and is now preparing to take on the most devastating boxer of the modern era, Manny Pacquiao at Suncorp Stadium on July 2.
The fight didn’t come easily – the negotiations were an on-again, off-again saga as Pacquiao tried to set up a bout with Briton Amir Khan.
But Horn kept the faith, and when the Khan bout fell through he was ready and waiting to sign up for what will surely be one of the biggest fights ever in Australia.
A fight against Pacquiao is the pinnacle of boxing – and the honour has fallen to a high school teacher who had his first fight at age 20.
Horn was studying education at Griffith University, working in childcare part-time, when he first met Rushton.
The veteran trainer was impressed by his raw materials.
“I could see natural talent in him – he had good efficient legs, he was tough, he was competitive,” Rushton told The New Daily.
“He had a good jaw: he’d get hit, it wouldn’t rattle him.”
Horn’s childhood dream was to be a soccer player, but as he entered adulthood it came down to a choice between rugby league and boxing. He spent about a year just dabbling in the square ring, training one night a week at Rushton’s gym.
But the trainer told him that if he dedicated himself to the sport he could be an Olympian in four years, and a world champion when he turned pro. Horn was sold.
“He’s got me half of that so far,” Horn told The New Daily.
“And we’re a step away from the world title.”
Rushton set a cracking pace for his charge.
“I threw him in at the deep end,” Rushton said.
“I was getting him when he was going on 20, so we had to move – and we did move!”
After boxing for only four years, Horn packed his bags for the London Olympics.
He won his first two bouts before running into Ukrainian Denys Berinchyk, who proved too tough in the quarter-finals and went on to win the silver medal.
As a professional, Horn began with a bang – reeling off three consecutive stoppage wins.
Along the way he improved steadily, as did the quality of his opponents.
In his past three bouts, he has stopped Randall Bailey, Rico Mueller and Ali Funeka – not elite fighters, but men with high-level credentials.
Pacquiao is a different kettle of fish.
Even at 38, he is a world-class, lightning-fast puncher who will present without doubt the toughest test of Horn’s career.
An eight-division world champion, Pacquiao racked up KO wins against such boxing stars as Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Ricky Hatton, Oscar de la Hoya and Miguel Cotto.
But he hasn’t stopped an opponent since 2009, and although he defeated the much younger Jessie Vargas in his last fight, he doesn’t carry the same air of authority he once did.
“It’s hard to say that Manny Pacquiao is diminishing, because he does move so well and he’s still world champion and just beat a young guy in Jessie Vargas,” Horn said.
“Maybe he’s taking his foot off the pedal a little bit.”
Rushton is not so sure.
“He’s managing his risk a bit better, but he’s still beating the best easily isn’t he?” he said.
“If he’s come down at all, it’s from such a lofty peak that he’s still a long way above the next-best.”
But Rushton said he wouldn’t swap Horn for anyone.
“Jeff has a great mindset,” he said.
“He’s like a modern-day samurai. When he gets out there, he’s devoid of emotion.
“He’s just a machine.”
With the fight predicted to be one of the biggest gates in Australian boxing history, it’s safe to say Horn stands to be a multi-millionaire at its conclusion.
“I’ll probably be a millionaire after the Pacquiao fight,” Horn told The Australian in January. “That blows my mind.”