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A lot of people would have taken a knee: Burnett reveals his World title winning decision against Zhakiyanov

 

By David Kelly

As Adam Booth pondered the dangerous challenge ahead for Ryan Burnett, with a philosophical rub of his chin the coach stated: "Feed your fate and starve your fear". Just 48 hours later in the SSE Arena, his Belfast protege came up with the disciplined diet for 12 rounds to live his dream of becoming a unified world bantamweight champion.

Kazakhstan's Zhanat Zhakiyanov came with the same desire and left with his pride hurt more than his granite-like muscles, while Burnett needed a visit to the Royal Victoria Hospital before he could return to his hotel to celebrate with Booth, promoter Eddie Hearn and his family. Carried out on a stretcher to an ambulance after such hard-fought success was a stark reminder to Burnett and his supporters just what every fighter is going through to be at the top.

A sense that his head was swelling and unable to hear when sitting in his changing room, Burnett had denied fear its moment to suffocate his desire and Zhakiyanov's relentless hostility. The judges rightly decided the 25-year-old had added the Kazak's WBA title to his IBF belt, though the wide scoring of 118-110 and 119-109 by two officials seemed a little harsh. The final judge had it 116-112 for only Northern Ireland's second unified world champion.

Zhakiyanov could not hide his disgust as he sat in the corner of his changing room contemplating defeat, the welts of battle scaring his face. Through his broken English he seemed to suggest a draw might have been a fairer result or at least scores that reflected the searing determination he had invested in every minute of the first unification bout to be held in Northern Ireland.

His coach Ricky Hatton had promised that Zhakiyanov would "take Ryan to places he hadn't been before" and so it proved in a bout that had its ugly moments of mauling and holding spliced with savage body assaults from either man, clashes of heads and fine some sharp shooting from Burnett.

The new unified champion admitted that maintaining the necessary nutrition for his fate in the face of the Kazak's fire was a challenge that he had met before. "I was hurt a few times in the fight from body and head shots and so badly hurt that I think a lot of people would have taken a knee at times but I just had to bite down on my gum shield and keep going forward.

"I think that showed the character I have, that I kept going and it's those little decisions that make the difference, that mean you get the title. If I had taken a knee I may not have got the decision."

An atmospheric SSE Arena welcomed Burnett to the ring to the tune of 'Another one bites the dust' but as it turned out neither man was going to wilt in this titanic battle.

The opening quarter of the fight was more to do with Burnett facing down the strength of Zhakiyanov, standing at close quarters and holding when he needed to before letting go with his short hooks and uppercuts, before finally finding some distance in the fifth to land some accurate, eye-catching blows.

The Kazak, though, outworked him in the sixth with Burnett receiving a stern warning from referee Howard Foster for careless use of the head. In fairness, both men could have been warned for holding and recklessness with their heads such was the nature of the battle. It had been clear from early on that this was not going to be a swashbuckling affair but rather a war of attrition.

We knew that Burnett could box, that he had fine footwork and sharp handspeed and by the final bell on Saturday night everyone could say he ticked the box entitled indefatigable.

Burnett gave a nod of respect to his opponent as the final bell sounded and then embraced coach Booth when the decision was announced. His fate had been sealed, he had looked into the open mouth of fear and spat out spiteful defiance.

Soaking up the flood of adulation that streamed down from his supporters, Burnett hailed the guidance he had received from coach Booth.

"To have someone like Adam in the corner was so important because he has been there before and he was able to give me the right advice at the right time," said Burnett. "It was a tough, tough fight, but I had to dig deep and I did it. Now I want to get all those belts."

Promoter Hearn and manager Booth will take their time to see what the next move is with interest now from top US broadcaster HBO in bringing him to the States.

But before that, it is more likely that he will meet England's Jamie McDonnell or Paul Butler. Arguably, whoever he now faces, Burnett will start as the favourite on the back of such a resilient display.

The Belfast man has laid down a marker to the rest of the bantamweight division with this victory and joined the greats of Irish boxing. You sense there are many more chapters to be written in this particular journey.

Belfast Telegraph

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