In another world, Ryan Burnett might already be a household name in Irish sport had the Belfast native opted against turning professional under Ricky Hatton four years ago at the tender age of 21.
An Olympic Youth gold medallist and World Youth silver medallist, Burnett was marked out as a prodigious talent as an amateur and appeared destined for success and stardom at senior level.
Instead, his decision to turn over to the pro game at a relatively young age – in modern boxing, at least – led to an early paid career beset by hard-luck setbacks, including a failed brain scan that was subsequently cleared and promotional issues.
Now 16-0 as a pro, having got back on track and built his undefeated record in England, Burnett will headline his first hometown show tonight when he challenges Bristol’s Lee Haskins for the IBF world bantamweight title at Belfast’s SSE Odyssey Arena, live on Sky Sports 2 (8pm).
Since leaving Hatton and linking up with Adam Booth – a trainer who has guided the likes of Andy Lee and David Haye to world titles – Burnett’s career flourished.
“We don’t know what the other path would’ve been, all we know is the one we’re on now,” said the trainer on the suggestion a testing apprenticeship across the water may have proven to be of benefit in the long term to Burnett.
“The one we’re on now, leaves him at the age of 25, fighting an Englishman for the world title in Belfast,” continued Booth. “You can’t really say anything could’ve panned out better because if it had it would’ve been a bit freakish. So we’re happy where it’s at.”
Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn has labelled Burnett the ‘new Carl Frampton’ in the build-up to tonight’s bout, with the promoter suggesting a title win will lead to more big fights nights on home soil, including a possible co-headliner alongside Katie Taylor later in the year. While his last five bouts have gone the distance, there is a suspicion Booth has yet to let his protégé off the leash and this evening could be the night the young star justifies such big talk.
“Ryan’s got a lot of fire in his belly,” admitted Booth. “He has a rage inside him that at any given moment can burn him and he has to control it. But if the time is right to try and melt this fella [Haskins] with the heat and the intensity, I know it’s there. I’ve seen Ryan has this extra gear. That extra gear is called ‘crazy’ and he has it, with absolutely no thought or care about what may or may not happen to him or what the end result will be,” added Booth.
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