Ipswich heavyweight boxing star Fabio Wardley says he's expecting 'a shoot-out' when he returns to the ring at the O2 Arena this Sunday night.

Wardley, the English heavyweight champion, squares off with giant American Daniel 'The Mountain' Martz on the undercard of Lawrence Okolie's world cruiserweight title defence against Michael Cieslak.

The 27-year-old former Chantry High School student hasn't fought since wiping out Nick Webb in the first round of his English title defence last August, and is champing at the bit to get back in the ring and kick off what he hopes will be a big year.

"My body just needed a bit of TLC, a bit of time off," he said of the break "I had a lot of fights back to back, a lot of camps back to back, a lot of heavy sparring, just general wear and tear throughout my body.

"A lot of those injuries were on the edge of becoming bigger problems requiring surgeries and this and that, which I definitely wanted to avoid.

"It was better to just take some time, have the back end of the year off and crack on from there."

East Anglian Daily Times: Fabio Wardley celebrates his knock-out win over Eric Molina tonightFabio Wardley celebrates his knock-out win over Eric Molina tonight (Image: ©Mark Robinson Photography/Matchroom)

In Martz, Wardley (12-0, 11KO) faces a 6ft 7ins, 20 stone opponent who's decided 17 of his 20 wins by knockout. He's also been stopped eight times in his nine defeats.

"It's going to be a shoot-out," said Wardley. "He's a big guy, he's going to want to come over and use his size, use his advantages - his height, his range, his mass - and try to lay it on me and cover space.

"It's my job to try and negate that, but it's a good one to have because he's not going to be shy.

"Clearly by his record he's not going to be gun-shy at all, he's happy to let things go and mix it up - and we all know that I'm happy to do the same, so it's going to be entertaining."

While his record isn't stellar, Martz has mixed it with some star names - he's shared the ring with former WBO world champion Joseph Parker, ex-IBF world champ and Anthony Joshua KO victim Charles Martin, plus world title challengers Luis Ortiz and Bryant Jennings.

East Anglian Daily Times: Suffolk's Fabio Wardley celebrates his second round KO of Richard Lartey at Wembley Arena. Picture: DAVE THOMPSONSuffolk's Fabio Wardley celebrates his second round KO of Richard Lartey at Wembley Arena. Picture: DAVE THOMPSON (Image: ©Dave Thompson/Route One Photography Ltd)

"It's similar to the Eric Molina fight," said Wardley, referencing his KO win over former multiple-time world title challenger Molina last March.

"Someone who's going to pose me some questions. I've been in with someone who was big before, but that was really early in my career and he was much less experienced.

"This is someone who's big and rangy, carries a lot of power and he's going to try to use those things.

"It's a slightly different puzzle for me to solve, but that's what we want.

"We want these ones as early as possible, where I've got to figure things out, so I've got that information locked in and banked to go into bigger fights in the future."

That future, for 2022, means more titles - and Wardley has his eyes on the British crown next. Talk in the trade is of him squaring off with friend and former sparring partner Nathan Gorman (18-1, 12KO) for the Lonsdale belt later this year.

"The British title is obviously what I'm looking at," Wardley explained. "The chat's around Nathan Gorman because it seems like he's the most likely candidate on the other side.

"If it's not him, if there's someone else they feel is a more viable option, then cool.

"I'm not fussed - I'm just on the hunt for titles and belts. That's where I'm going, and that's what I want to do."

He added: "I think the British title is the most prestigious, slightly ahead of the other ones, but not massively.

"The Commonwealth and European are on a similar level, but I think the British belt looks a bit nicer, so it works out a bit better!

"The thinking is a big fight next. Get this one done, shake off the rust, feel the lights again, feel what it's like fighting in front of a crowd again in an arena, then get the show on the road again and push for that."

East Anglian Daily Times: Fabio Wardley warming up with head coach Rob HodginsFabio Wardley warming up with head coach Rob Hodgins (Image: ©Dave Thompson/Matchroom)

It's not lost on Wardley that he's blazing a trail for others from Ipswich to follow. The town - or county for that matter - has never had a heavyweight prospect like him before, putting his hometown firmly on the fistic map.

And others are starting to follow in his footsteps from his Suffolk Punch gym, under head coach Rob Hodgins. Super-welterweight Ryan Copland is 4-0 as a professional and fights on March 19th, while super-middleweight Jordan Warne makes his pro debut on April 9th.

"It's great," said Wardley. "This is one of the reasons that me and Rob started on this journey together, to bring other people through as well.

"We saw in the gym that there's other talented people that could do well and make waves in boxing, but Ipswich as an area didn't really have a platform.

"So with us doing what we're doing, we're setting a path which will allow other people to come through and show off how good they are.

"Jordan and Ryan are setting off on their journeys. Ryan's had a few fights and Jordan's about to have his debut.

"It's great to see. They'll come through and do their thing, and they'll inspire some more, and then it's a snowball that hopefully will keep building and picking up traction."

That snowball will hopefully one day lead to Wardley headlining at Portman Road, with a slew of Ipswich boxers on his undercard. It's a goal he's made no secret of before - and he had a taste of just what it might be like when he was a VIP guest at Ipswich Town for the last-gasp win over Fleetwood in October.

Wardley sat in the directors' box with new co-owner Brett Johnson and was introduced to the fans at half-time, English title belt across his shoulder. He was front and centre in pictures of the celebrations of Town's winner too, leaping up with Johnson and others.

For former Town Academy player Wardley, it was a great experience.

East Anglian Daily Times: Fabio Wardley was a VIP guest at Ipswich Town, alongside co-owner Brett Johnson, back in OctoberFabio Wardley was a VIP guest at Ipswich Town, alongside co-owner Brett Johnson, back in October (Image: Ross Halls)

"It was a bit surreal," he recalled. "As a kid I'd gone to games and different bits, and when I was young I was in the Ipswich Academy and we used to do our training on the astro next to the stadium.

"So it's funny to be back years and years later but to be doing something completely different.

"It was great, a fantastic experience. A really good day as well - a really good game, some of the photos that came out of me getting really into it were brilliant. I proper loved it."

East Anglian Daily Times: Fabio Wardley acknowledges the applause from the crowdFabio Wardley acknowledges the applause from the crowd (Image: © Copyright Ray Lawrence)

The next step towards that Portman Road dream is to conquer The Mountain this Sunday.

He said: "A good outcome is just for me to be happy with my performance, box well and the way I know I can without taking any silly shots or risks and just having an overall good performance and getting him out of there within the first three or four rounds.

"I'd definitely be happy with that."

- You can watch Wardley fight live this Sunday on the DAZN app. His fight should start at around 5.30pm.