Burnett vows to unify titles and prove he’s world’s best
First defences are meant to come wrapped in a modicum of cotton wool but Ryan Burnett has welcomed his encapsulated with barbed wire. On October 21 at Belfast's SSE Arena, IBF World bantamweight champion Burnett seeks to join Carl Frampton as the only Northern Ireland boxers to have unified World title belts.
The Jackal did it by defeating Scott Quigg at super-bantam and now his fellow Belfast man faces WBA titleholder Zhanat Zhakiyanov, who has a solitary early loss on his record to go with 27 wins.
It was Zhakiyanov's victory over the highly respected American Rau'shee Warren that made the boxing world sit up and take notice of the Ricky Hatton protégé.
Hatton has been working with the hard little man from Blagoveshchenka, Kazakhstan for some time and at one point he also oversaw him sparring Burnett, who used to be part of the former World champion's camp.
The two champions come together in a battle that many view as a 50-50 duel and Burnett insists he would have it no other way, even though most champions would feel entitled to a nice little learner at this point of their career.
"A lot of people would have avoided Zhanat but not me because I want to be a great champion," said a defiant Burnett.
"I'm pretty sure some people see it as a 50-50 fight. He took the belt off a World champion, I took the belt off a World champion so it's a great fight - this is the best against the best and I believe I am the best and I just have to go out and prove it.
"I know that I still have a lot to learn and I'll not shy away from that but I believe the best Ryan Burnett beats anybody in the bantamweight division.
"Winning the World title was something I had dreamed about all my life, but I quickly realised that I want more. I don't just want to be a World champion, I want to be a great World champion and this fight makes me a great World champion."
While WBO bantamweight champion Zolani Tete's camp would lay claim to being at the top of the bantamweight tree, promoter Eddie Hearn concurred with the thoughts of Burnett that the winner on October 21 will be seen as the top dog.
"This is a fight to see who's the number one in the division. It's an historic fight, the first World title unification fight in Northern Ireland and for Ryan it's a legacy-defining fight in only his 18th fight," said Hearn.
Zhakiyanov is nevertheless confident he can be the one walking away from the SSE Arena with both belts.
"I've won against all title holders that my management team put in front of me," said Zhakiyanov.
"Ryan Burnett will not be different from what I've always achieved."
The supporting bill features some good matches with unbeaten Belfast super-lightweight Tyrone McKenna facing former British title challenger Tommy Coyle.
Coyle said: "I'm really looking forward to this fight. We sparred a bit a couple of years ago so I'm feeling very confident of causing an upset."
Meanwhile, WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz will meet former Carl Frampton victim Chris Avalos on October 14, while Andres Gutierrez faces Abner Mares on the same bill in Los Angeles.
Gutierrez was to have fought Frampton last month before falling in his bathroom at the Culloden Hotel, leading to the SSE Arena show being cancelled. Santa Cruz and Mares will meet early next year.