It's fitting that middleweight titlist Sam Soliman names the "Rocky" movies as the foundation for his career as a professional boxer.
With 11 career losses, Soliman was an unlikely first-time world titlist at age 40 when he outpointed Felix Sturm in May to lift his 160-pound belt. More often the underdog than not throughout his 17-year career, the Australia native will take on a new role during his first title defense: the betting favorite.
Soliman (44-11, 18 KOs) will square off with former undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor on Wednesday (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Taylor (32-4-1, 20 KOs), 36, enters the bout fresh off a four-fight win streak dating back to 2011. Before that, the Little Rock, Arkansas, native had dropped four of his previous five bouts, including three by devastating knockout against quality opposition.
Soliman, meanwhile, hasn't suffered a defeat since 2008 and appears reborn while committed to staying put at his natural weight of 160 pounds. Seven of his 11 defeats have come as a super middleweight.
A former member of ESPN's reality series "The Contender" in 2007, Soliman took time away from training to talk with ESPN.com about the challenge ahead of him in Taylor, along with his long journey to the top:
How exciting is this stretch of your career at age 40 to be capturing your first world title and defending it on ESPN?
It's not every day you get a chance at a world title like this, and to defend it, that's pretty insane. But in Australia I have been waiting 23 years for it. There are stages in your life where you wonder if it will ever really happen. I never doubted myself when it came to my work ethic or training, but just in regards to the politics of the sport. But I overcame it all.
Your 2013 victory over Felix Sturm was later ruled a no-contest after you tested positive for small traces of a banned stimulant. Considering the lengths you have gone to in order to prove your innocence, how sweet was it to defeat him more convincingly in your May rematch?
I couldn't wait for the opportunity after they had put that allegation on me. I had to fight that by sending my B-sample to America and proving myself clean. The IBF told me I would get a second opportunity if it came back clean -- which it was. So, to be honest, [defeating Sturm] was fun.
After such a long run in your career, what was going through your head when they first put the world title around your waist?
All I was thinking was, 'About time.'
There are many who will maintain Jermain Taylor shouldn't be in the ring against you considering the devastating nature of his defeats and the first-degree domestic battery charges he currently faces. How do you view his situation?
You've got one of the toughest licensing bodies in the world in the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and for them to give him the OK, you can't really question that. Then, of course, on top of that he went to the Mayo [Clinic]. If they are saying he is right to go, then it's right. Between those two things, he is clean to go. In terms of should he still be fighting again, he is 36. Well, then should I still be fighting [one month removed from] 41? Should Bernard Hopkins and Randy Couture, and all of them guys, still be fighting at 50?
Taylor enters the bout on a four-fight win streak. How different do you think this version of him is from the one who once held the undisputed middleweight championship of the world?
He is still a lot of trouble. He still has that confidence after winning his last four fights, with three by KO. That confidence of his I believe will be better for me than for him because I believe he will be coming out there thinking to himself, 'I'm facing this kid from Down Under who is 5-foot-9. I'm taller than him. I'm fighting near my hometown. I'm a former four-time world champion. I've done what he hasn't done yet.' But he has also got to get in his head that he's fighting the champion now and the champion leaves no stone unturned when it comes to his preparation.
It has been so difficult for fighters to make adjustments to the rhythm of your awkward style. How did you develop that?
From when I started my career, I have always wanted to be like Bruce Lee -- hit and not get hit. But my style kind of started from watching Rocky Balboa as a kid in the "Rocky" movies. He became my favorite fighter to ever put the gloves on. I used to mimic his style when I came home from school and would put as many books in my bag as I could -- not to study, but to put more weight on my legs so I could run home and my legs would be heavy. And when I got home I would study the VHS videotapes. But some of the awkwardness developed from the fact that I'm a former kickboxing world champion. I fought four world champions in kickboxing and Thai boxing in Thailand, and I lost just one out of the four. So when I transitioned to boxing, I merged the fitness of the sweet science with kickboxing. And not having to use my elbows and knees suddenly made the sport of boxing a little bit easier by taking away six of the eight weapons that I have to avoid. But fitnesswise, you are lifting the heaviest muscle in your body by kicking your legs. When you start doing that, you are a lot more fit than your opponent. That's why I know Jermain Taylor is not kicking the pads like I have been.
You have been the underdog throughout most of your career. How will it feel to enter this bout as the champion and the favorite?
It will be great. I have been the favorite just four times in 55 fights, and I won all four.
Throughout a long career of highs and lows, including 11 defeats and now your first world title, was there ever a time where you doubted yourself and considered giving up?
Only because I love the sport so much, there was no way I was going to stop until I got it. So it wasn't like, 'Can I still do one more year of it? I'm going to try one more year to get it.' That's different for someone who loves it, not because he wants to get the title, but because he loves to do it. If the title comes, that's a bonus. If the title doesn't come, I still love what I am doing. If I stop doing it and give up, it goes down that they win twice. They win because I didn't get the title and they win because I stopped doing what I love doing. Because I didn't give up, persistence and patience and perseverance all paid off.
We know you will look to box Taylor with your herky-jerky style. But do you feel like you can take the fight to him and score a knockout?
If I do, it will be a herky-jerky one. [He laughed.] But no, he's going to fight someone who is a workhorse. I live in the gym. I make all of the sacrifices that equal success. I can't see any difference between this fight and any other champion who I have fought. I fought the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world [in 2005] and gave Winky Wright a harder time than Taylor did. We both fought Winky at his peak and I did a better job than he did at it. I threw 1,277 punches in the fight. At the end of the day, it was a good fight. It was a fight where even though the judges' scorecards didn't say so [Wright won by unanimous decision], if you were there you would know who won. It was like a "Rocky" movie, though, where Rocky comes back in the last round and Apollo [Creed] has nothing left. Winky is black and I'm white, and Apollo is black and Rocky is white, so it was kind of similar.
You will be 41 on Nov. 13. What kind of goals do you still have for yourself in your career?
Like I said earlier, the answer is always going to be the same: I do it because I love it. I haven't had a close fight in a long, long time and have outboxed everyone. But once I start taking a few shots and start getting into close fights, I'll know that it's time to go.