When looking at the list of opponents Anthony Lenk has faced during his boxing career the name Jessie Vargas stands out. On paper, that's the only time he's had an in-ring decision against an adversary that would become a world champion.
What's not listed on Lenk's won-loss resume is the amount of time the Niagara Falls resident has spent in the ring with other former world champions, including Timothy Bradley Jr., training with them and helping them prepare for big-money fights.
Those experiences along with his own past success are the reasons Lenk heads into his first championship bout as a professional confident that he'll not only win but also that he's on the path to bigger and better opportunities in a fickle sport.
Lenk (15-4, 7 KOs) takes on unbeaten New England native Mark DeLuca (19-0, 12 KOs) for the junior middleweight International Boxing Association world title and World Boxing Association North American championship Saturday night in the main event at the Plainridge Park Casino near Boston.
Both belts are considered stepping-stone titles to major-level championship opportunities within the WBA. Fighting for any title is a big deal for the 30-year-old Lenk, a three-time national champion as an amateur who has worked years for this chance.
"I feel like the universe just kind of played its cards right with me," said Lenk, who starting boxing as a 7 year old and won his first national title at age 12. "I've been in the game for a long time. … I worked with a lot of champions (when I lived in) Vegas. I know that I belong at the top because I can hold my own with them."
Lenk, who is under contract with Evander Holyfield's Real Deal Boxing, is actually a fill-in foe for the fight. That means Lenk is supposed to be the underdog with no chance at winning, even more so since this fight is essentially in the 29-year-old DeLuca's backyard.
Lenk, a southpaw who has never been knocked out and has lost three times by majority decision, doesn't view his status that way.
"Manny Pacquiao won a world title on two weeks notice," Lenk said. "This fight is going to change my life.
"I take boxing on the science way. When I look at somebody I don't just see them for what they are I kind of see their faults. I have a good game plan for Saturday night."
The title fight is Lenk's third bout since he took a break of more than three years from the sport to handle family matters (focusing on raising his son, who's now 5, and dealing with a divorce). He is 1-1 on the comeback, winning via unanimous decision in his last bout in September in Schenectady.
He worked in Las Vegas as a valet before returning to Niagara Falls and reuniting with his father/trainer Ray Casal.
"Coming back here to my roots I found a girl, she changed the course of everything," said Lenk, declining to provide a name. "A good woman by your side can help you rebuild the pieces after a divorce. With her help, she kind of rebuild the foundation that is my house. After doing so it kind of made me realize boxing is my path. … Within eight months with her by my side, we've opened up this chapter."
That includes finding a sponsor to help with costs, earning the contract with Holyfield's promotion – which included a chance to fight on national television, and now a shot at championship hardware.
"He deserves this," said Casal, the Ring 44 Buffalo Veterans Boxing Association Hall of Famer. "He's been around for a long time. He's fought a lot of better fighters than this guy. … I really think he's going to pull it out."