THERE is nothing like a rumbling stomach and an empty bank balance to help focus the mind. Like many professional athletes in the early stages of their careers, Nathaniel Collins had a tough decision to make: how much of a short-term sacrifice would he be willing to make to pursue a brighter long-term future? And for how long could he survive with little but ambition to sustain him?

The answer to the first question was everything. The Bearsden featherweight quit his job in building maintenance to devote all his time to boxing, spending hours in the gym during the day and then training with coach Joe Ham Sr and the rest of Team Ham at night.

So far it is paying off. The 23-year-old became Celtic champion in October in only his sixth professional fight; it was enough to convince him he is on the right path. He opens what he hopes will be a breakthrough year with a six-rounder on Thursday at the St Andrew’s Sporting Club’s Burns Night Boxing Supper. He does so knowing he has to keep making the sacrifices worthwhile.

“It’s a struggle overall,” he admitted. “When I was working you could do what you liked and had a wee bit of spare money. Now it’s down to the basics. I’ve not been on holiday for years. So you miss things like that.

“I get a wee bit of money from boxing and then have to try to make that last until the next fight. My sponsors - Prep Co Scotland, ProLife Fitness and Simpsons Builders - all help me too so I’m very grateful for their support. But it’s quite a big sacrifice overall. I’m pretty much skint all the time.

“I just felt if my career was to have a chance I would have to be fully committed. I don’t want to have regrets when it’s finished.”

How long he can continue to survive hand to mouth depends on his career progression. And he is impatient. While many boxers like to advance at an almost glacial pace, Collins is in a hurry.

If he is good enough – or not – to make it, he would rather find out sooner rather than later. He is fortunate, then, that he has the ideal manager to take him on this journey.

Iain Wilson helped put former British bantamweight champion Kash Farooq on the road to glory and now Collins wants him to do the same for him.

“I asked for a 50:50 shot early on [against Monty Ogilvie for the Celtic title] as I felt I needed it. I couldn’t get motivated to fight people I knew I would beat easily.

“I’ve no interest in dragging it out and padding my record. I’d rather just go for it. And if you lose, you lose. If you’re not good enough you’ll find out soon enough. And alternatively if you are good enough you might move forward quicker.

“The plan is for another warm-up fight in the spring, hopefully a title defence in June and then by the end of the year the goal is a British title eliminator.

“I don’t want to just wait for something to happen. Joe and I are setting targets and hoping my manager can make it happen. He helped Kash get on the BBC and signed by Matchroom and that’s the path I want to follow. I have a brilliant trainer in Joe and a great stable and I know they will help me all the way.”

Collins is as smart as he is ambitious. Realising the need to try to stand out in a competitive field, he has adopted a persona – The Nightmare – to try to make his appearances more eye-catching.

“Selling tickets is a big thing when you turn pro so you need something to make you memorable and stand out. Even if you don’t remember my fights then you’ll hopefully remember the guy in the mask. And it gets me hyped too. When the mask is on that’s time for me to switch into fight mode.”

There is one person in particular he is eager to impress this week, with IBF world featherweight champion Josh Warrington the special guest of honour.

“He’s an incredible fighter so it would be good to put on a wee show for him. He’s got the Shakur Stevenson fight coming up so hopefully if he’s looking for southpaw sparring he might like what he sees and give me a call.”

Stories like Warrington’s give Collins even greater encouragement that he is taking the right approach.

“I want to be able to help my family and get to a point where I can afford to live comfortably. You get some boxers who insist it’s not about the money. But why would you do it otherwise? Everyone wants to be a world champion but you do it for the benefits that come with that. Creating a legacy is nice but there have to be rewards along the way.”