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From Las Vegas to Bendigo: Jeff Horn's redemption begins now

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Horn: I can be world champion again (1:47)

Almost a year since Jeff Horn's reign as WBO welterweight champion came to a crashing end, the Australian boxer is eyeing a return to the top. (1:47)

Not even Hollywood's greatest and most imaginative writers could have scripted the events of July 2, 2017 at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.

There was drama. There was controversy. There was heroics. And above all, a remarkable fairytale ending that every single one of the 51,052 fans in attendance will remember for the rest of their lives.

Jeff Horn's inspiring journey from bullied schoolboy to high school teacher to welterweight champion of the world was one of the all-time classic sporting underdog stories and one that still boggles the mind and is difficult to comprehend two years on.

"It's like trying to remember your dream from the night before," Horn tells ESPN as he casts his mind back to the greatest day of his career. "You can only pick out little moments. You keep piecing things together."

After 12 grueling rounds under the blazing Brisbane sun, Horn emerged victorious over future Hall of Famer and eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao, sending the locals into a frenzy and the travelling Filipino fans into shock. Heck, he sent the sporting world into shock.

"I can still remember walking out and the roar of the crowd," he says with a wide smile. "I remember my hand getting risen and then getting picked up by my team when the decision was announced. It was an amazing feeling and every time I watch it I get goosebumps, especially the start and the end of that fight."

Controversy may have laced the aftermath of the bout, as many formed the belief the fight had been rigged and Horn was gifted a hometown decision. But there was no doubt the performance had put Horn's name up in lights.

He says becoming an overnight sensation "flipped my life on its head" and no longer could the humble, mild-mannered Brisbanite walk his local streets without being swarmed for photos and autographs.

So with the championship belt in his possession, a rapidly rising fan base and a back story to admire, you would have expected Horn to be instantly propelled to boxing stardom.

It didn't quite happen.

Just 10 months later, Horn travelled to Las Vegas, the world's boxing Mecca, and was comprehensively outclassed by American pound-for-pound superstar and current world titlist Terence Crawford. It was a brutal defeat that damaged his reputation and not even a quick-fire rebound win over veteran Australian boxing icon Anthony Mundine back in his native Queensland could repair it.

"If [the win over] Pacquiao was definitely the highlight of my career, the low would have to be the Crawford fight," Horn admits. "I just didn't have the best preparation for that fight. It was really tough.

"I've got to hand it to him, he's definitely a very good fighter and he definitely out-boxed me that day, that's for sure."

Horn took some time away from boxing after the loss before returning in style against Mundine. He then had an opportunity to pocket AU$2 million with a fight against Japanese middleweight Ryota Murata in Tokyo, but withdrew once the date was postponed as it was likely to clash with the birth of his second child.

"I was stuffed around so many times," he says. "In the end I put my foot down because if I was gone I could have possibly missed the birth. It was very important that I was there."

Now, on the two-year anniversary of his Pacquiao triumph, Horn is gearing up to reignite his career against little known Victorian Michael Zerafa on August 31. But instead of the bright lights of Las Vegas, Horn will have to make do with the sleepy regional city of Bendigo, a city with a population of just 140,000 and located around 150km north-west of Melbourne.

Some would say it's a significant fall from grace, but Horn knows his road back to the top must start somewhere.

"I want to be world champion again," a determined Horn tells ESPN. "Welterweight will be a challenge to make now, especially since my weight keep skyrocketing, but I'd love to get it in a second division - super welterweight or middleweight division.

"If I have a good win [against Zerafa] I'd possibly look to fight again in late November or early December. That would be the perfect scenario."

Bendigo Stadium might be a million miles from the MGM Grand's Garden Arena, but if there's one thing Horn has taught us it's that you can never write him off, particularly a return to the top.