November 1, 2018
November 1, 2018
Ryan Burnett

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DON’T tell Ryan Burnett that Naoya Inoue is a monster.

Don’t tell him that he has more to do than just survive the World Boxing Super Series to retain his WBA title and reclaim the IBF.

He is just not interested.

Not because he does not appreciate the size of the job at hand but because he has confidence. He has faith in himself.

Happy and content as part of Adam Booth’s blossoming stable, that includes Michael Conlan and Josh Kelly, the Northern Irish bantamweight champion meets Nonito Donaire in his first round WBSS fight and says it is the biggest contest of his career.

“Yes, definitely,” he admitted. “He’s definitely the most accomplished person that I’ve been in the ring with but I believe now, with what I’ve learned from Adam, I have the capabilities of beating him.”

He has not seen all of Donaire’s last fight, a loss to countryman Carl Frampton, but he acknowledged that the Filipino started too fast and then faded as the contest wore on.

“I think Frampton’s size and strength played a part,” he added. “I could see where his [Donaire’s] age started to tell a little bit, his legs weren’t there. That’s what I took from it.”

Donaire is now dropping down two weights to enter the tournament, from Frampton at featherweight to Burnett at bantamweight.

Some feel the weight loss could be a bridge too far for the 35-year-old but Burnett does not have that on his mind ahead of their fight at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow on November 3 as part of an exciting double-header that also boasts Josh Taylor-Ryan Martin in the WBSS at super-lightweight.

“It would be foolish of me to rely on someone else’s weakness,” the level-headed Belfast man continued. “I haven’t thought twice about it. If he doesn’t make the weight – great. If he does make the weight – great. I don’t rely on other people’s weaknesses. I try to benefit myself.”

He has a healthy dose of respect for his opponent, having admired the ‘Filipino Flash’ when he was just an amateur and Donaire was on top the world and carving through opponents like Jorge Arce and Vic Darchinyan.

“Believe it or not, I looked up to him quite a bit,” he explained. “Even years back he was at the top of his game and I was watching him and learning from him. I met him when he fought Frampton and I was star struck. I couldn’t believe it. We had a great conversation and he’s a really great guy. The next minute I’m fighting him.”

Ryan Burnett

They even went out to dinner with their partners after the announcement that they would be fighting one another.

“I think Nonito, he’s been there, he’s done it. He’s talked the trash, he’s been a good guy, he’s done everything and he doesn’t need to do it anymore so I think his true personality has come out now and he’s just a really nice guy. He’s there to fight to provide for his family and with that attitude there is no cheek, and you don’t ever hear me saying stuff, so we’re on the same page. We had a great meal but I said to him, ‘On fight night, we’re going to try to take each other’s head off’ and he agreed and that was it. It was a nice night.”

There is a school of thought that one person will behead everyone in the tournament, that Inoue will be the last man standing with unbeaten records and reputations at his feet and belts draped over his shoulders.

Not so, if you ask Burnett. He sees an alternate ending.

“Can’t wait. I can’t wait,” said Burnett, a steely determination in his eyes as he clenched his jaw when asked if he was up for the Japanese challenge. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s unbelievable. He’s brilliant. But there’s something about him that I’ve got. Definitely. One hundred per cent. I know. He was standing beside me and I was thinking, ‘You haven’t got a chance with me’. I’m 100 per cent confident.”

Does he think he will fight Inoue in the tournament?

“Yes,” he said after a long pause. “I know it will be me and him in the final.”

Elsewhere, the minefield includes Zolani Tete, Emmanuel Rodriguez, Juan Carlos Payano, Jason Moloney and Mikhail Aloyan.

There was speculation for a while that Burnett would fight Tete before the tournament.

Tete, like Inoue, is a fearsome proposition. Burnett does little more than shrug at the thought of him.

“I don’t fear anybody,” he said. “Respect? Yeah. I respect him.  It wasn’t him who was saying, ‘I want to fight Burnett.’ It was the people he has around him saying, ‘Say this, say this.’ He’s also a guy who doesn’t trash talk. I was sitting in a room with me, Inoue, Rodriguez and Tete – just us four – we were all quiet but I was watching them all and watching their actions and what they were doing and the way they reacted and what struck me with Tete was as he was sitting there he was watching videos of his kids and I could tell from that that he’s fighting for love. He doesn’t fight out of hate, he fights for love and that’s a very, very powerful thing. That caught my attention about Tete.”

There will be no easy fights. The previous WBSS have highlighted that in living colour. They have produced fight of the year contenders, with the best fighting the best.

“At the start when it was mentioned to me I got a fear in my stomach,” Burnett confessed of his initial thoughts. “I thought Tete, Inoue, Rodriguez, all the best guys, they’re all in here. And I’m in it. When I flew to Russia and I was around these people, a wave of confidence just came over me and I felt The Man over there. I really did. I carried myself well. I conducted myself well. I felt I was different to them and it made me feel really good about it.”

Burnett’s self-assuredness has come, in part, from the relationship he has with his coach Adam Booth.

Burnett, now 26, had an apprenticeship under Ricky Hatton in Manchester, a period of time that he feels made him the fighter he has become, but he feels Booth has harnessed his talents.

“Adam brought me on massively,” he agreed. “The skills I’ve got at the moment, I didn’t have and he’s taught me all these little things that I believe I wouldn’t learn from other coaches. He’s been massive for me.”

Burnett had felt isolated and alone in Manchester. He ended an unhappy spell when he failed a brain scan that all but consigned his talent to the history books.

He now lives with Booth and is part of a bustling group of like-minded, ambitious fighters.

“It’s really good,” he went on. “When I came here  [to Booth] I was renting. It’s good being here. I moved to England on my own at the age of 19 and I was so young, it was hard for me when I moved up to Rick’s. But it hardened me. It got to the point where nothing could faze me. It got to the point where I was sleeping in a car and I thought, ‘This isn’t too bad’. So that’s where my mindset was. So when I moved here and rented a place it was nothing to me but Adam then welcomed me into his home and his wife treated me like I was their own and the kids run up to me in the morning. Things like that – and it’s really nice. When it came to the point that I could have gone and rented again he said I could stay here. Thankfully he’s allowed me to be part of his family.”

Booth is delighted with the role he has played in Burnett’s progression, particularly away from the ring. He’s given him a stability he yearned for and he’s witnessed a personal development that has resulted in Burnett owning his home outright on the outskirts of Belfast with a car on the driveway. Oh, and a pair of world title belts, one of which goes with Burnett everywhere, a constant motivational reminder.

And those titles are also a way of measuring how far he has come, from a point where a failed brain scan almost cot him everything.

He had gone from being a decorated amateur with a 94-4 record and fighting the world over, to hot pro prospect to the scrapheap in a short spell.

But he had never given up on the dream that saw him win his first world title against awkward Britstolian Lee Haskins (IBF) and unify (WBA) against old Hatton stablemate and sparring partner Zhanat Zhakiyanov.

“Even when a neurologist said to me, ‘Sorry, you’re never going to box again,’ even when he said that I thought, ‘No, that is not the case whatsoever,’ it never felt real to me,” he remembered. “I always felt it was just one of those things and it was going to pass, that it was going to be okay. And I always thought that. I was out of the ring for a year, left Rick, ended up homeless, but I always said to myself, ‘It’s fine. It’s going to be okay. It’s just the way it is. Just stick with it.’ I did, and thank God I did.”

From a homeless spell to security, from a future that might not have included boxing to two world titles, Burnett will now possibly go from monster to monster.

But he is not fazed.

“Thank God,” he repeated. Thank God he had faith.