Farrag ready to welcome Burnett to the lion's den

Luke Byron
13/10/2016 12:10pm

On Saturday Ryan Burnett steps into Merseyside's very own lion’s den (more commonly known as the Echo Arena) to face Liverpool’s Ryan Farrag for the British bantamweight title.

With Burnett relatively untested to date, and Farrag looking to prove his quality after losing his EBU title earlier this year, this looks to be a really intriguing fight that has serious show stealing potential.

In the lead-up to the fight I spoke with Farrag about his career so far, and what to expect on Saturday night.

The 28-year-old Farrag made his professional debut on 22 October 2010, at Robin Park Centre in Wigan, winning against Anwar Alfadli via a four-round points decision. From there he amassed four consecutive wins, before losing a close decision to Lee Haskins during a Prizefighter tournament in Liverpool. There was a head collision during the first round of the Haskins fight which opened up a nasty cut over the eye of Farrag, and this ultimately affected the way that Ryan was able to see the shots coming, and hampered any real chance that he had before the fight began.

Following the gutsy loss to Haskins and an absolute thriller against Craig Lyon in the quarter-finals, Farrag emerged from the tournament with more fans than ever, making him a known name in the sport, even outside of Liverpool's inner circle of boxing fanatics.

Farrag bounced back from the loss with eight consecutive wins, including a knockout victory over Jason Booth (Burnett beat Booth via a unanimous decision late last year).

Now the reigning English bantamweight champion, Farrag then travelled to Belgium for clearly his toughest test to date, a bout against Stephane Jamoye for the vacant EBU bantamweight title. The Liverpudlian provided a shock on the night, as he dominated the fight and won almost every round before stopping the Belgian in the ninth round in what was an almost punch-perfect display.

After a quick KO of Bulgarian Stefan Slavchev, next up for the Merseyside man was a defence of his EBU title against Karim Guerfi. During this contest, Farrag let himself get dragged into more of a tear-up than he originally planned, resulting in him being stopped in the third round by the Frenchman.

One comeback fight later, he’s now ready to challenge Burnett for the coveted Lonsdale belt.

The first question I posed to Ryan was how training was going. "It’s going perfect," he explained. "We’re doing lots of sparring with different styles and camp has gone perfect so far. No injuries and I’m feeling fit."

On top of this thorough preparation, Farrag will have the backing of his home crowd spurring him on, so I asked just how much of a boost it will be to have the majority of the Echo Arena behind him.

"It’s always great to fight in your own city," he replied. "The Echo Arena is a big venue here; Tony Bellew is topping the bill so I’m sure it’ll be packed out. It’s ideal for the people who come to support me, as they only have to come down the road to watch. I’m really looking to put a good show on for everyone ... In the late rounds when you’re getting tired and you can hear people screaming your name, it does give you that extra boost to keep you going."

You could make the case that in the last four fights; we have seen both the best and worst of Ryan Farrag, so I then asked whether he believed the Jamoye fight was his best performance, to date. "Yeah I think you could say that," he agreed. "I don’t think anyone expected me to go over there and do that. I got him out of there in the ninth round and probably won every round before that."

In contrast, the Guerfi fight was probably Farrag's biggest disappointment to date. I wondered if the animosity beforehand had anything to do with his performance, which Ryan denied. "I don’t think the back and forth had anything to do with it. I just let myself get dragged into a fight. But I think in the long run it’s made me better. I was just unlucky to be on the end of a good shot."

Most observers believe that another career best performance will be required of Farrag if he is to claim the British title on Saturday night, with bookmakers making him a clear underdog.

However, facing Farrag will be a considerable step up for the unbeaten Burnett, and stepping in front of such a raucous crowd will also be something that he’s unlikely to have experienced before also. I asked Ryan whether he felt this was a step too far, too early in the career of Burnett.

"I was quite surprised that they offered us the fight," he admitted. "He hasn’t really stepped up yet. I do believe that it’s too early for him, but we’ll have to wait and see to find out."

The opportunity to fight for the British title was something that Farrag admits he was never going to turn down. "When I won the European, I thought I’d never get to box for the British title," he pointed out.

"Losing the European was devastating, but this has come out of it. I now get to box for the belt that I’ve always wanted to fight for. It’s a great opportunity and I’m gonna grab it with both hands. I believe I can mix it with anyone at domestic level."

During our conversation I heard no indication from Farrag that he was looking past this fight, and he would be foolish to do so, but upon mentioning a potential world title shot in the future I asked him if Lee Haskins was still his primary target.

"Any world title I’d love to fight for," he argued. "Obviously Lee Haskins is just down the road so that makes sense, but I think Lee has a lot of people banging on his door at the moment."

He’s right, Stuart Hall is clamouring for a rematch with the IBF bantamweight champ, Paul Butler has been touting to face him too, while Haskins himself has mentioned a possible rematch and unification with WBA champ Jamie McDonnell, who he bested in 2008. There are also plenty of enticing options overseas at bantamweight, and a win against Burnett would certainly put Farrag's name amongst the contenders.

Saturday night is sure to tell us a lot about both fighters, and it’s certainly not the end of the road for either, regardless of the result.

The only thing that is for sure is that the fans at the Echo Arena are guaranteed to be in for a treat as two up and coming fighters put it all on the line for the honour of holding the prestigious Lonsdale belt.