IBF world bantamweight champion Burnett bids to become only the second Irishman to unify world titles in one weight class – after fellow Belfast native Carl Frampton – when he takes on WBA title-holder Zhanat Zhakiyanov of Kazakhstan, live on Sky Sports at the SSE Odyssey Arena.
The 25-year-old also aims to be the first to achieve the feat on home soil as tonight’s bout is the first unification fight to ever take place in Ireland – north or south – with two of the four ‘major’ world 118lb belts on the line.
Additional intrigue is provided by Burnett’s links to both his opponent and, particularly, opposing trainer Ricky Hatton.
Ireland’s 2010 Olympic Youth gold medallist – now 17-0 as a pro – trained under former two-weight world champion Hatton for his first four paid fights before linking up with Booth in 2014.
However, the trainer insists that neither the occasion nor sentiment will distract Burnett: “He’s as cold as anyone when he wants to be,” said Booth. “If you needed an assassin to go and do a job that’s the type of character he is.
“He’ll switch off, do what he has to do, come back and eat a pizza.
“Go and do his bloody mess of a job, wash his hands and have a pizza.”
Burnett hinted that he will have an appetite for destruction when quizzed on his expectations ahead of the bout.
When asked if he is out to make a statement this evening by punishing 33-year-old Zhakiyanov, Burnett said:
“Definitely… When he’s hurt I’ll be at him. With what I know to do, and the ability of what I’ve got... technically and with intelligence I’ll be able to break the fight down and control it at my pace.”
The fighters sparred together during their time in Hatton’s gym and the trainer admitted that a victory for the bullish Zhakiyanov – 27-1 as a pro – would be bittersweet against his old protégé.
“I’ll be overjoyed if Zhanat beats Ryan… but I’ll be celebrating but in small doses,” said Hatton.
“There’s no hard feelings… I still never thought that I’d end up fighting in the opposite corner to him, but we are now and I can’t wait,” continued Hatton, who insisted that the bullish Kazakh has learned from his poor start that nearly derailed his WBA title win over American Rau’shee Warren last February when he was put down twice in the first round of that fight.
“Those mistakes he won’t make again,” said Hatton. “I’ve seen things in Ryan’s fights which give me confidence that he can get hit, he can get marked up, he likes to get involved.”
Promoter Eddie Hearn has predicted that a crowd of around 7,000 will be present for the historic fight night, with HBO broadcasting the bout in the US.
Former world middleweight champion Andy Lee – a gym-mate of Burnett – has hailed the clash as the “biggest fight to ever happen in Ireland”, but Hearn admitted that the home fighter has yet to become a household name as tonight’s bout marks only his sixth fight in Ireland
“We’re still in the building phase, which makes it quite unusual to be in this [unification] fight,” said Hearn. “Victory makes him a star here.”