By Tom Gray
On Saturday, at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a lifetime’s work will culminate in a world title shot for local favorite Ryan Burnett.
The unbeaten 25-year-old will take on Lee Haskins for the IBF bantamweight title and it is simply the stuff that dreams are made of. In fact, there was poignant evidence of that when images of Burnett being told by trainer Adam Booth that he had his title shot were released on social media.
It was news that surprised the fighter more than any punch he’s ever likely to take.
“I was completely oblivious,” Burnett told RingTV.com. “I had absolutely no idea. It was about 8:30 a.m. and I came down to get something to eat.
“Adam told me to sit down and, when he told me, I got emotional because it was something I’ve dreamed about for years. I got a taste of it and it was fantastic. I’ve always imagined what that moment would be like. I’ve looked at all these other world champions and thought to myself, there must have come a point when they were told.”
The man holding the prize right now, Haskins, is rated No. 3 by THE RING at 118 pounds. The 33-year-old southpaw was upgraded to full IBF titleholder, in November 2015, when an overweight Randy Caballero surrendered his belt on the scales. Haskins still retains plenty of ambition and has since defended successfully against Ivan Morales and countryman Stuart Hall.
“Haskins is a fantastic boxer,” acknowledged Burnett. “He deserves the credit because he’s been there and done it. He holds a world title and he’s only been beaten once (by Stephane Jamoye, TKO 8) in the past nine years. I think that speaks volumes and it demands respect.
“For Haskins’ ability, and for what he’s done in the game, you can do nothing but credit the man. His record speaks for itself. He’s world level and that’s what I’m getting in with on Saturday night. But I strongly believe that I’m very capable of winning this fight.”
Burnett (16-0, 9 knockouts) has gone 12 rounds twice, both times in British title fights. The Belfast man completely shut out Jason Booth to win the Lonsdale belt and had his way with Ryan Farrag in a title defense last October. Heading into a world title bout with 12-round experience is crucial but will Burnett have the goods if serious questions are asked of him over that distance?
“Technically or physically, believe me, I am very well-prepared for this fight,” Burnett responded. “I think, with Adam’s track record, he knows how to prepare fighters for world title fights. He’s been there and he’s done it. I’m in great hands and this camp has gone perfectly.
“There are people out there saying it’s a bit early but, if it was, there is not a chance that Adam would put me in there. Adam is a smart man and I’ve got a great team behind me. I’ve got a team who look out for my best interests and if this fight was too early, it would not be happening.”
Fighters will almost always credit their training team. Burnett, however, mentioned his coach in almost every answer he provided and the pair have a unique and strong bond. Booth, a highly acclaimed and cerebral coach, who has worked with David Haye, George Groves and Andy Lee, among others, is never far from his fighter’s side.
“I currently live with Adam, so I’m with him every day,” revealed Burnett. “I’m with him at the gym and, after the gym, then we sit down at the table and I eat with him. Every day, it’s the same thing. It’s become a father-son type relationship, over the last few years. He helps me inside and outside the gym and I think that’s how it should be.
“Adam has given me a great overall understanding of boxing, not just the basic skills of the sport but he’s given me a clear understanding of what I have to do in each situation. Me being with Adam has been the best move I could have ever made. We get along very well and we’ve got a clear understanding of each other. We know what direction we’re going in.”
The versatile and switch-hitting challenger not only has the backing of Booth; he also has home court advantage in his native Belfast. The Odyssey Arena will be a seething cauldron on fight night and Haskins (34-3, 14 KOs) can expect to be on the receiving end of some major hostility.
“That’s going to be a positive and I know, firsthand, that the Belfast crowd are very proud,” Burnett said. “Belfast is very small and our boxers are doing well right now. Boxing is something that the people get behind and they’ve proved that over and over again with Carl Frampton. The crowd will be very loud on the night.
“With that said, I have prepared myself to deal with the best possible Haskins. He’s been there. He’s done it. He’s seen it. He’s tasted it. He’s done everything, so relying on the fact that a hostile crowd might rattle him – that’s not very much to lean on. With that guy’s experience, he could walk into the arena and brush it off his shoulder.”
So, will Burnett be able solve the Haskins puzzle? The veteran titleholder is determined to test him to the full but the Belfast man’s confidence was visceral. Will we hear those immortal words, “And the new…”?
“As you just said that, I got shivers up my spine,” replied Burnett after a short pause. “Words can’t describe it, if I’m being honest. I won’t be able to describe it. One thing I do know is that I will become world champion on June 10.”
Tom Gray is a U.K. correspondent/editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Gray_Boxing.
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Source:: The Ring – Boxing