Carl Frampton is in the last chance saloon.
By his own admission, the Northern Irishman’s career will be on the line when he takes on a talented foe in 16-0-1 Tyler McCreary later this month, hoping to keep his dream of winning a third world title alive.
Frampton, the former unified super-bantamweight and interim featherweight champion, has been here before.
The spectre of retirement was one that lingered over him in the build-up to his unsuccessful tilt at the IBF featherweight crown last year, its presence felt but never addressed as Frampton geared up for war with Josh Warrington.
- BT Sport's exclusive coverage of the bout begins at 2.45am on Saturday night. If you're not yet a BT Sport subscriber, click here to find out how you can get set up in just 15 minutes.
Frampton’s confidence ahead of the contest had kept the wolf from the door for the time being but when defeat came over 12 punishing rounds to Warrington, the Jackal was forced to reckon with his future in the sport.
Retirement looked inevitable as a teary-eyed Frampton reflected on his broken dream in the bowls of the Manchester Arena.
“There’s more important things in the world than boxing and I’ve got two young kids who are excited about Christmas. I’m going to go home and enjoy it with them,” he told BT Sport in the aftermath of the fight.
“I’ll sit and have a think about what I’m going to do with the people closest to me. I’m sure I’ll have a decision pretty soon.”
But having let the dust settle following a two-month break into the turn of 2019, Frampton became increasingly uneasy with turning his back on boxing after what he believed to be a poor performance in Manchester.
Shortly after, the 32-year-old returned to training under Jamie Moore at the VIP gym and reaffirmed his desire to win another world title by signing a promotional deal with Top Rank and ESPN.
“It’s an amazing deal. Talking financially, if you got this deal coming off the back of win and you got it, you’d be very happy with it but coming off a loss, credit to [management company] MTK Global,” he told iFL TV in March.
“I think it is insane coming off a loss. At one point a few months ago, I was genuinely thinking about retiring.
“It gives me a big opportunity to get back. I believe I can win a world title. There’s more of a chance of that happening now than there was six weeks ago.
“Potentially, I’ll face a good fighter and then hopefully Oscar Valdez after that.”
With the path to another world title shot being laid out before him, Frampton was dispatched to Philadelphia in an August showdown against Mexico’s Emmanuel Dominguez it was hoped that would position him for another crack at gold.
However, hours out from the fight, Frampton was struck down by misfortune after a freak accident involving a falling ornament in his hotel lobby left him needing surgery on a fractured hand.
Frustration soon made way for excitement however after it was announced he was to return alongside Oscar Valdez in Las Vegas with both men testing themselves against opposition at a higher weight class.
Valdez, who vacated the WBO featherweight title earlier this year, takes on Andres Gutierrez at super-featherweight in the main event while Frampton faces a stern test of his title credentials against part-time lightweight Tyler McCreary in a 128lb catch weight contest.
“It’s in-between featherweight and super-featherweight so it gives me the option to go up or down, whatever comes next, whatever passages open up for me after this fight,” Frampton told iFL TV last month.
“It’s a big fight for me, he’s a good fighter and I’ll need to be at my best but I’m determined to get back to winning ways.”
The consequences of a third professional defeat were laid out in no uncertain terms by the Belfast boxer ahead of his 29th fight.
“The next fight I lose, I’m done. I’m absolutely going to say that, I will not box again so I’m not even thinking about that. I’m thinking about winning this fight and pushing on for a world title. I want to win another world title, that’s my plan,” he added.
Under the guidance of Top Rank, Frampton’s plan has begun to come to fruition as he laid the foundations for a potential showdown against WBO super-featherweight king Jamel Herring this week.
“Obviously with the focus on November 30 and getting the win… fighting a Jamel Herring would make a lot of sense in New York,” Frampton said of his promotional stablemate, who admitted he would welcome the challenge, this week.
“First we have to win this fight. I’m flattered that Jamel Herring said the things he said, that I’m willing to fight anyone.
“After November 30, we will see how it feels [at the heavier weight] and, God willing we win and leave healthy, begin looking at the next one, ideally for another world title.”
But Herring also issued a word of warning to his prospective opponent, advising him not to overlook a capable opponent at the glitzy Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.
“I admire all the interest of a potential matchup against Frampton, but don’t write off Tyler McCreary. He’s young, undefeated, and hungry. Don’t overlook a man who has nothing to lose, but everything to gain,” Herring, 34, tweeted.
The 26-year-old Ohio native undoubtedly has the potential to cause a shock against Frampton.
Ranked number five in the world by the WBA, McCreary will be the much taller man on the night and takes pride in utilising a jab he believes ranks among the very best at super-featherweight.
“I definitely feel like I have one of the strongest and best jabs in the business,” the two-time Toledo Golden Gloves Champion told Bite Down Boxing in July.
“Especially at this weight class, my reach is too long and my jab is too powerful.”
Frampton will need to utilise all of his experience in negating McCreary’s ramrod left – but with the lure of one last dance for the title within touching distance, The Jackal must find a way to win once again.
BT Sport is the home of live boxing this weekend with Fight Night Live: Midlands Mayhem kicking off a monster Saturday night of action at 6pm.
There will be a whopping six titles on the line at the Birmingham Arena - including the WBO bantamweight world title - before the focus switches to Las Vegas in the early hours of the morning.
Carl Frampton v Tyler McCreary begins at 2.45am exclusively live on Saturday night but if you miss any of the action our enhanced video player will remain available after we come off air, allowing subscribers to watch the entire fight card - or key moments of their choosing - with no spoilers.Click here to find out how you can get set up in just 15 minutes.