Ice man Ryan Burnett relishes war
With features chiseled out of marble and ice running through his veins, Ryan Burnett exudes confidence that he can embrace the war of attrition that everyone expects to unfold tomorrow night and succeed on his terms for 36 minutes.
Belfast’s SSE Arena is the stage for an historic evening as IBF bantamweight champion Burnett and WBA title holder Zhanat Zhakiyanov engage in the first world unification duel Northern Ireland has witnessed. The anticipation within the city and the boxing fraternity of a night to remember is building to a crescendo as it seems this battle cannot fail to deliver fireworks.
This is the natural consensus with Zhakiyanov’s coach, former world champion Ricky Hatton, speaking for many when he stated it should be “a war”. But Burnett is taking a slightly different view, believing that, while there will be moments of hardship, he will be the one in possession of the weapons to neutralise whatever the tank-like Kazakh fires his way.
“He may well make it tough for me but with what I know I can do and the ability that I’ve got I don’t see it being a war, I don’t see it being like that at all. Technically and with intelligence I’ll be able to break the fight down and control it at my pace. I see me being trickier, cute and a lot stronger than he thinks I am,” said Burnett.
“But I’m prepared for any eventuality. The preparation I’ve gone through for this fight has me ready. I’ve been through some tough times in sparring, we flew in some good super-featherweights, big strong guys who could deal with anything that I was doing.
“Whatever I did, they were still capable of putting me under serious pressure and even under that pressure I was still performing. That proves to me that I’m capable of dealing with the situation in front of me.
“He’s known to be a slow starter but I’m not relying on his weaknesses to win the fight, I’m prepared for the best of him and I will be ready,” he added.
Zhakiyanov wears an inscrutable expression, partly down to his lack of English, though that hasn’t prevented coach Hatton from taking him to world champion status.
“He understands the boxing language,” quipped Hatton, who points to the 33-year-old Kazakh’s victory over highly rated American Raushee Warren as the barometer for what fans in the SSE Arena should expect tomorrow night.
A huge underdog, Zhakiyanov found himself on the floor in the opening round and then drove himself back into the fight before winning the WBA belt on points.
“At the end of the first round I asked him was his head clear and he said ‘yes, head clear’ so I just told him then ‘you have to go out and really put it on him and win this round’ and he had three great rounds and I could see that Warren was deflated.
“They breed them tough in Kazakhstan, it takes him two and a half days just to get to Manchester. It’s literally a case of planes, trains and automobiles because he starts out with a six-hour bus journey, then a train and then he has two flights.
“The great thing about Zhanat is that he’s like a robot, he’ll follow the instructions exactly. He proved himself in that fight with Warren and I think I proved myself as a trainer.
“From a stylistic point of view there are not many better fights than Ryan and Zhanat.
“They’re two nice guys but there’s nothing going to be nice about the fight and it’s going to be a great night for Belfast boxing.
“Zhanat knows that he’s not going to win on ability and speed, he’s going to win with the things we’ve been working on, he’s going to win with his determination and heart.
“He’ll have to come through some minefields in the early stages but then hopefully the fight will go our way in the second half.”
Burnett, though, is confident that he will not be allowing the WBA champion to enjoy a re-run of his glorious night against American Warren back in January.
“This is a massive night for me… becoming a unified world champion would be the cherry on the cake.
“I know I’m prepared for whatever I have to deal with.”