RYAN BURNETT, Belfast’s WBA and IBF world bantamweight champion, expects to fight on March 31 – on the undercard of the world heavyweight title fight between Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker – but won’t, he says, be collecting another belt. Not for the time being anyway.
The gifted 25-year-old was in the habit of collecting belts last year. He snatched the IBF title from Lee Haskins in June and then, in October, without even having made a defence, jumped straight into a dangerous unification clash with WBA champion Zhanat Zhakiyanov. That was just his 18th professional fight, by the way. It was a risk, a calculated one that could have backfired, but, such is Burnett’s talent and tenacity, he prevailed in a gruelling affair, doubled his loot, and now possesses the kind of power his rival champions are without.
“Everyone says becoming a world champion is supposed to make you feel different, but, for me, every day is still the same,” he tells Boxing News.
“I get the belts out every day and look at them. It feels real when I look at them. They’re mine. I prefer the black one, the WBA one, but the first one, the IBF title, felt more special at the time because I’d just become world champion. It was an unbelievable feeling. You work your whole life for that moment. To be named world champion was great.
“I knew I was good enough to do it. I knew because of the sparring I’d done over the years that I had the ability to do it. I just needed the right doors to be opened. Lucky enough, Eddie [Hearn, promoter] was the right man to unlock those doors. I always knew I was capable of doing the job, though.”
Most will forgive Burnett for slowing down at this point. Taking it easy. Weighing up his options. He’s achieved a lot in a very short space of time and his last two fights, particularly the second of the two, were physically and emotionally demanding. He has earned a soft touch; a routine defence.
But this patience, on behalf of fight fans, presumably won’t last long – it rarely does – and already the name many want to throw Burnett’s way is that of WBO bantamweight champion Zolani Tete, a South African promoted by Frank Warren, who was recently seen icing Siboniso Gonya in just 11 – yes, eleven – seconds.
“I think Tete is a very, very good fighter,” says Burnett. “He’s very skilled and isn’t where he is for nothing. But I’ve got a team around me who deal with these things and create my path and I listen to them. I always have done. If Adam [Booth, trainer] says we’re doing this, that’s what I do. If Adam says jump, I say how high. That’s it.
“If he told me I was fighting Tete, I’d say not a problem. I’d fight anybody in the world. That’s what I do. But that’s not my decision. That’s down to my team. That’s their job. I just leave it in their hands. I only control what I can control and that’s training and fighting.
“I don’t really think about the other champions and getting what they have. I just think about myself and how to better myself. I don’t focus too much on what else is out there. Those decisions are down to Adam and Eddie.”
The plan, as far as Burnett is aware, is to defend his belts on March 31 and then do the same in a headline slot a few months later. It is the second of those fights, rather than the first, that could see him tighten his grip on the 118-pound division.
“Luis Nery, the WBC champion, is another fight that interests me,” he says. “Basically, if you’ve got a title, and it makes for a big fight, I’m interested.
“I’m not avoiding anyone. I always said I wanted to be a great world champion, not just a world champion. I’ve always put that out there and told myself that over and over again.
“Beating Zhanat, I believe, has made me a great world champion. It definitely has in my eyes. I’m 25 and have had 18 fights and I have two world titles. The belts weren’t vacant, either. They were both world champions at the time.”
When visualising future opportunities, it’s impossible for Burnett to do so without smiling. Beaming, in fact. After all, he knows, with two world titles to his name, it is he who revs his engine in pole position. “I’m the Champ Champ,” he says, borrowing a line from another famous fighting Irishman. “I’ve got two belts, they’ve got one.”