Unified bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire has been in this position before -- with a ton of attention focused on him and great expectations for a bigger fight on the horizon, as long as he gets through a fight that is right in front of him.
Last December, Donaire moved up to 118 pounds and had to deal with respected former titleholder Wladimir Sidorenko. But Donaire knew going into the bout that a win would pave the way for a much bigger fight -- his HBO debut in February against unified titlist Fernando Montiel.
Donaire was expected to beat Sidorenko, but had to stay focused -- or the best-laid plans with Montiel would go up in smoke.
Donaire, known as "The Filipino Flash," blocked out the distractions and destroyed Sidorenko. Annihilated him. Donaire bloodied his face and dropped him three times en route to an overwhelming fourth-round knockout.
Donaire went on to face Montiel, scoring a monstrous second-round knockout to seize his two belts and rocket up the pound-for-pound list.
"I've been around a long time, and that was one of the most devastating punches I have ever seen," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said. "He caved in Montiel's face. It was scary and it demonstrates to me that not only is Nonito a good boxer, but he has lethal power in his hands and it's going to be tough for anyone to beat him."
Donaire and Arum are back on the same page after settling their recent promotional differences. Both sides say the bad blood that caused Donaire to briefly leave Top Rank and sign with Golden Boy (a move that was eventually nullified by the courts) is behind them.
"Everything needed to be worked out," Donaire said. "It was a process that we needed to go through. Now they know how valuable I am to them and I know how valuable they are to me. We have respect for each other. Everything just had to happen."
With the promotional tussle behind him, Donaire, widely regarded as one of the top five fighters in the world, is set to return to action in a position similar to the one he was in prior to his fight with Sidorenko.
Donaire will meet junior bantamweight titlist Omar Narvaez, who is moving up in weight for the opportunity, on Saturday night (HBO, 10:30 ET/PT) at the Madison Square Garden Theater in New York in the main event of "Boxing After Dark," which will also include a replay of last week's controversial light heavyweight championship fight between Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson.
"I don't care who I fight," Donaire said. "I just tell [Top Rank] what I want the fighter to be. I want the fighter to be a good fighter.
"Narvaez is a credible fighter. He is a champion and a legend in Argentina. As a fighter, I am willing to fight anybody."
Although Donaire (26-1, 18 KOs) is facing a quality opponent, albeit a smaller one, he is expected to win -- to dominate, really -- before leaving the bantamweight division behind for the richer opportunities at junior featherweight and, eventually, featherweight.
But even though Donaire, 28, knows there is so much in front of him and realizes he is playing on the big stage in New York, he still has tunnel vision regarding his Saturday assignment.
"We're never looking past the guy in front of us," Donaire said. "Narvaez is a very experienced fighter. He has all the cards in his deck, all the aces. We don't want to look past anything. With Sidorenko, they said my focus was on Montiel. This is the same thing.
"We want to look spectacular on Saturday and have the same momentum. We want to keep the momentum going. He's a tough guy in front of me, but we have trained very hard. I'm not going to let anything get in my way."
Narvaez, 36, is no pushover. He has shown a strong chin, was a two-time Olympian for Argentina, is undefeated and held a flyweight title from 2002 until 2009 (making 16 defenses) before moving up to junior bantamweight and winning another title, which he has defended three times in dominant fashion.
And even though Narvaez (35-0-2, 19 KOs) will be fighting in the United States for the first time, he has experience traveling. He made three of his flyweight title defenses in France, two in Italy and one in Spain.
He is also confident.
"I am going to go home with the belts," Narvaez said through a translator. "No one in the U.S. knows about me, my skill level or my experience in big fights. Donaire is too young for a fight like this, as you will see on Saturday night. My experience, my speed and movement are too much for Donaire."
Besides his excitement about getting back into the ring and his big plans pending a win, Donaire -- who was born in the Philippines before moving to Northern California as a child -- is excited about fighting in New York.
Before the media conference announcing the fight about a month ago, Donaire had never visited the city. Now he has been there twice -- for the media blitz and this week for the bout.
"To be at Madison Square Garden -- the list of fighters who have fought there is historical," said Donaire, who also visited the Philippine consulate in New York to help promote the fight this week. "It is an honor to be fighting in Madison Square Garden. It is going to be very exciting, and our goal is to get out there and entertain and to show the people where I am, like Jack Dempsey did and those old fighters -- the old Italian fighters, the old Irish fighters and the old Jewish fighters. I have watched them all, and it is incredible that I will be there and we are going to put our heart and soul and give everything that I've got."
Arum originally was going to stage the card at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., a region with a large Filipino population. However, Golden Boy, which was promoting last week's Hopkins-Dawson fight at nearby Staples Center and didn't want the competition of another major card a week later, blocked Top Rank from going to the arena. It called on AEG, which runs Staples Center and Home Depot Center -- and also owns a stake in Golden Boy -- to block the fight.
Unruffled, Arum headed to New York instead.
"A lot of people ask me why am I bringing Nonito Donaire to New York at Madison Square Garden, and they point out there are over 2 million Filipinos that live in the Los Angeles area, and I tell them Filipinos live all over the United States," Arum said. "There are about 400,000 Filipinos living in the New York metropolitan area, and besides, there are a lot of great fight fans in New York and this gives them the opportunity to see this phenomenal fighter, Nonito Donaire. For Nonito's future, he is being exposed to the Big Apple, fighting an undefeated fighter."
And as they say, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
If Donaire wins, he'll move up to 122 pounds and, according to Arum, return in the first quarter of 2012. A win in that fight would propel Donaire into a title shot against Japan's Toshiaki Nishioka (39-4-3, 24 KOs), who went to Las Vegas and pounded out a decision to retain his belt against former champion Rafael Marquez on Oct. 1.
Donaire sat ringside for the fight, knowing the winner was a likely opponent next year.
"I believe I will be stronger at 122," Donaire said. "And then I'll see where I can go from there, to 126. So that's why I was there [at Nishioka-Marquez]. I had asked Top Rank for that fight at 122 against Marquez or Nishioka. I want anybody who is at the top of their game at 122, Nishioka or [titleholder] Jorge Arce."
First, however, comes Narvaez on the New York stage, as Donaire is well aware.
"I'm very pumped," he said. "It's a different level from Las Vegas to be in New York, in terms of overall media. It's pretty crazy. It's been overwhelming in a sense, but we are ready to handle business. It's a different atmosphere with all the hype, but I like it. I am made for this.
"I am ready for this. But it's a good thing I wasn't here two years ago or a year ago. It would have exploded in my face. Now I am ready to handle this. This is just beginning."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.