Belfast calling for Burnett
On 27 February at Manchester Arena there will be an air of expectancy, an atmosphere that will crackle with anticipation and spread through thousands of people who have waited years to see Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg battle in a squared circle.
Beforehand, an undercard will have come and gone featuring fighters who dream of being one side of such a magnificent main event in the future.
One of those is Northern Ireland bantamweight Ryan Burnett (12-0, 9 KOs). A 23-year-old baby-faced assassin who hails from Belfast, a fighting city that has produced world champions such as Rinty Monaghan, Johnny Caldwell and, of course, Carl Frampton.
Burnett is tipped as the man who will be king at 118lbs one day and overcame the first hurdle in doing so when he captured the British bantamweight title in November. A 12-round shut-out of 38-year-old warhorse Jason Booth.
“[Trainer] Adam [Booth] wants me to be ranked in the top 10 with all boards by the end of 2016,” Burnett told Boxing Monthly when we spoke to the new British champion recently. “I have no doubt whatsoever that I will take over the bantamweight division.”
That’s not arrogance on the part of Burnett, but pure self-belief. With a team including (promoter) Eddie Hearn, (trainer) Adam Booth and Dave Coldwell, who works his corner alongside Booth, the shell of Burnett is slowly being chipped away to display a blossoming individual who has the potential to be his country’s greatest ever fighter.
Not everyone would have shared such sentiments after the Jason Booth fight. Young gun Burnett dropped veteran shooter Booth in the first round and the accelerator pedal was expected to be have pressed down with such pressure that referee Steve Gray would have been forced to save the elder statesman.
What followed was a young man boxing to orders. Someone who listened to his vastly experienced corner and decided instead not to go into warp speed. “I know I could’ve stopped Jason Booth but I never. I boxed to orders and did exactly what I was told to do from Adam,” Burnett told BM.
“There were a lot of expectations but the people who are expecting these things don’t know the plan. I know I hurt Jason a few times. If Adam had told me to pick up my workrate I could’ve stopped him, but he never - he told me to stay behind my jab and that led to the 12 rounds.”
Onwards to 27 February. With a date already in his head, there was no break over the festive period for Burnett with the exception of a hearty Christmas dinner. A win on the Frampton-Quigg undercard against Anthony Settoul could lead him to headlining a show of his own in Belfast. A city that has turned out in thousands to help carry Carl Frampton to many a victory including his most famous scalp when ‘The Jackal’ won the IBF super-bantamweight title against Kiko Martinez in September 2014.
“Belfast is a very passionate city when it comes to fighting,” Burnett remarked. “They come out to support their own and the only big, massive nights we had [recently] were with Carl and there hasn’t been one in a while. They love the idea of boxing coming back to Belfast and, with Sky and with Eddie, they know they can put a big show on. The fans will love it and I can see it going well.
“I’m in a very strong position,” he said of joining the ranks at Matchroom. “I’ve got a great team around me and with Eddie on board it creates the big opportunities like being on that undercard of Carl and Scott. And that’s a massive show for me to be on - it’s good and really beneficial to me.”
There was a time, however, when Burnett’s career didn’t look like taking off whatsoever. After a near 100 fight amateur career and a Youth Olympic gold medal, the first professional port of call for Burnett was to sign a promotional contract with Hatton Promotions in 2013. A failed brain scan had his career hanging in the balance for a while.
“There was something that showed up on the brain scan and, once it showed up, it became a bit of a problem with the British board,” he recalled. “They said, ‘No, I couldn’t fight’ and it was down to me and the people around me to prove that I was fine to box, that I was healthy to box and that I was at no other risk than anyone else. It took a while but we got there.”
Living and leaving life in Belfast, moving to Manchester as a young man, and his boxing dreams being put at risk are now obstacles that have been comfortably cleared. And, despite parting ways with Hatton, it’s nothing but fond memories for Burnett, now living in London, to look back on.
“It was a great experience with Ricky,” Burnett told BM. “He treated me well and taught me a lot from the time I was with him for which I’m very grateful for. Ricky looked after me when the majority of people turned their back and that’s something I’ll always be very, very grateful for.”
Burnett has come a long way in two years. There was never any doubt in his mind, despite the failed brain scan, that his fighting talents would take him on to fulfilling dreams that first began at the age of four when his father put a pair of boxing gloves on his small fists.
The last year has seen Burnett sign with Matchroom and win a Lonsdale Belt but also given the opportunity to travel to America to be part of Jamie McDonnell’s team. Burnett trained alongside the WBA bantamweight champion, trained by Dave Coldwell, in his preparations for Tomoki Kameda when the pair met in both May and September. Two fights when the all-action Yorkshireman took the best that Kameda could throw and still conquered him twice over 24 rounds of high level boxing.
The experience of working with Adam Booth, fighting on Sky Sports and travelling to America – it’s all part of the plan. “It was incredible,” said Burnett. “I was training with the world bantamweight champion and he defended that title. Being around it and being a part of something that I will have one day. It was an experience that showed me that, one day, I can at least say I’ve been there. I’ve been in the changing rooms with him and part of a world title fight which makes it a bigger thing.”
As a result, Burnett’s admiration for McDonnell grew to greater heights. “He’s the definition of a real gritty world champion and I’ve got massive respect for him after the time I’ve spent with him. It made me realise what type of attitude it takes to be a world champion.”