I was told I'd never box again: world title challenger Ryan Burnett
Only four years ago, Ryan Burnett sat alone in his Manchester apartment fearing he would never box again… and this Saturday night he will step into the ring at Belfast's SSE Arena to challenge Lee Haskins for the IBF World bantamweight title.
Burnett, an Olympic Youth gold medallist, had turned professional with former World champion Ricky Hatton and was preparing to make his debut when a phone call from the British Boxing Board of Control left him distraught.
"I was sitting in the room on my own when the call came and the guy tells me, 'Ryan Burnett, you've got a brain problem, you're not going to be able to box again, we're sorry'," said Burnett, who is now managed and coached by Adam Booth.
"I put the phone down and I'm thinking, 'I'm only 20 years of age'. We had the date, everything was set for my debut, everyone was excited about my first fight… I was just gutted, words can't explain how I was feeling.
"It took just over a year to sort out my brain scan, I had to go through an angiogram to prove to the neurologist that I was fit and healthy to fight. I had to show that the blood was flowing freely around my brain and that I wasn't at any risk of something serious happening to me.
"When I think about that, it does make me feel so grateful to be here fighting for the World title, this means so much to me."
Coming through that year-long nightmare naturally brought a huge sense of relief that his career was finally up and running, but gradually that was replaced with unhappiness at his life in Manchester.
Turning professional at 19 and leaving family and friends behind was taking its toll on the Belfast boy.
"I turned pro and found myself living on my own in England, everyone said it was too soon and I have to admit that being in Manchester was tough. Things were not good, it could be depressing," said Burnett.
"I was a young guy, full of life but without one friend. It was just a case of going to the gym and then back to the apartment on my own… I was a guy who loved having people around so it was very, very tough.
"People told me to come home, and I had every opportunity to do that but I didn't, I stuck it out. Now it's six years on, those times have hardened me and made me a better person. I've gone through things that the average person doesn't go through, and if they did go through them, it could break them."
While he remained on good terms with Hatton, Burnett decided it was time to move on from Manchester, and there is no doubt that his tie-up with Booth, with whom he lives in London, has given him a more balanced lifestyle as well as, in the 25-year-old's words, "a greater understanding of boxing".
The contrast with the cold fear of his career falling apart before it had started could not have been more stark with the tearful moment when Booth revealed to him that promoter Eddie Hearn had delivered him his World title shot with Haskins.
"I was very emotional, he told me the news and you can imagine a young fighter being told you have an opportunity to fulfil your dreams," said Burnett.
"It's every fighter's dream to be fighting for a World title and I'd just been given mine. It was like Christmas Day, so much joy but also some calmness.
"I'm only 25 and I've only had 16 fights and a lot of people would regard that as still learning your craft and I am learning my craft. I've got so much to learn, but with my ability and how hard I work, I can become World champion.
"It means so much this chance, I'm so grateful - when you've been alone believing you'll never box again, you feel so grateful for this chance and I will become World champion."
- Belfast cruiserweight Tommy McCarthy will not be boxing on the undercard this Saturday.
Promoter Eddie Hearn believed he had an agreement for McCarthy to face former heavyweight contender Mike Perez but the Belfast man's manager Pat Magee has insisted that the fight will not be happening.
Magee said: "I never received a contract for the fight and didn't get the assurances I needed.
"It's disappointing for Tommy. We'll look to get him out again in September."