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Burnett can join Caldwell and Pocket Rocket as bantam king

 

By David Kelly

For Ryan Burnett, tonight is the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of two of Northern Ireland's greatest fighters. John Caldwell and Wayne McCullough both became World bantamweight champions and now another Belfast man has the chance to make it a triumvirate.

Both Caldwell and 'Pocket Rocket' McCullough certainly had a more rugged path to World glory, having to overcome greater challenges than the one facing Burnett.

That is not to denigrate Bristol's IBF bantamweight champion Lee Haskins, who will be making his third defence against Burnett, but McCullough, for example, had to produce one of the best post-war performances by a British fighter 22 years ago next month when taking the WBC belt from Yasuei Yakushiji in Japan.

That came on the back of a brutal struggle with Victor Rabanales. In contrast, Burnett has cruised his way to this point, leading the manager of Haskins, Jamie Sanigar, to doubt the Belfast man's ability to bridge the gap from domestic to World level.

"Burnett is technically a good fighter but unless he can go up three or four levels, I don't see how he can beat Haskins," said Sanigar.

"We like the traditional route... have British titles, learn there and then European, fight and then a world contender before a World title shot. Burnett hasn't had that. Where's the tough Mexican on his record? Where's the big banger from Argentina that you have to watch? It's not there.

"Lee had to go through three losses before he became World champion and maybe Ryan will have to do the same."

That is certainly not the belief of those around Burnett, with coach and manager Adam Booth urging promoter Eddie Hearn to make the fight a reality.

Hearn delivered and now Burnett is adamant that he can answer all the questions that hang over this intriguing clash between the 33-year-old southpaw and the fresh-faced young warrior with much to prove.

Burnett said: "To join names like John Caldwell and Wayne McCullough would be amazing, a real honour - it's not something that I've thought about a lot.

"Those two guys are legends, everybody knows them.

"I believe that I will become World champion. Whatever he's got I will have the answer.

"I've thought about this moment every night - every night thinking about the entrance and getting that belt around my waist.

"I believe that this is my time. It's time for Lee to step aside and for me to take over."

So, tonight we await to see if Burnett can handle the wily old fox in the opposite corner as well as the expectation of the Belfast public, ready to crown another World champion.

Coach Booth, once dubbed 'the Dark Lord' by George Groves, is quietly confident that he has the plan for his 25-year-old charge to dethrone Haskins.

Booth said: "He's been a very professional young man throughout this camp. He has made mistakes and he has understood those mistakes and come back the next day and boxed even better.

"He has progressed over the past few months to be good enough to win a World title and he has this incredible determination to win.

"We respect Haskins and I know that he can hurt you, he can mug you - he's very specific on how he shuts down aggression. We have prepared for the best of Lee Haskins. Ryan is ready."

Experienced coach Dave Coldwell, who looks after the WBA bantamweight champion Jamie McDonnell, will be at ringside tonight expecting Burnett to rise to the challenge.

"I think this is a great match-up. Haskins has been around a long time and Ryan is the up and coming hotshot. Haskins can be very tricky, he knows his way around the ring - he can be elusive and unpredictable, firing shots from awkward angles," he said.

"Ryan is inexperienced at this level but the massive factor for him is having Adam Booth in his corner.

"Adam wouldn't have taken the fight if he didn't believe that Ryan would be mentally and physically ready.

"You can see the massive respect that Ryan has for Adam and he will listen exactly to what he says in the corner and carry out the instructions.

"I think Ryan will pull it off, he will rise to the occasion."

Haskins naturally has other ideas, believing that his ring experience will be the deciding factor in a close encounter.

"It's a 50-50 fight but I am confident of finding the way to win," said Haskins.

But, as promoter Hearn said, "we just don't know how this fight is going to go".

The Northern Ireland boxing fraternity have been waiting for a while to see an eye-catching display from Burnett, one that will make them believe that he has the tools to carve out a career at the highest level.

Tonight, we will all find out a great deal more about Burnett as he seeks to cut down Haskins, who may be at the point of too many miles on the clock.

The moment has arrived for Burnett to show his mettle and join the greats.

Belfast Telegraph

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