Belfast fighter Ryan Burnett: from the streets to stardom

Ryan Burnett won a unanimous decision victory over the Kazak fighter Zhanat Zhakiyanov for the WBA bantamweight title on Saturday night. Picture by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker Press
Andrew Madden

Ryan Burnett is celebrating today but just four years ago he was homeless after his boxing career stalled.

On Saturday night, he made history and became the first Irish fighter to unify world titles on home soil.

Rags to riches sports tales are a dime a dozen, but Burnett’s is unique.

From an early age, the young Belfast fighter was destined for success in the ring. Under legendary Holy Family coach Gerry Storey – who counts Carl Frampton and Paddy Barnes among his protégées – Burnett won Olympic Youth Games gold and World Youths silver in 2010.

In 2012, a 19-year-old Burnett joined another legend, Ricky Hatton, at his stable in Manchester, where he began training for his pro debut. His star was on the ascent and world championship belts awaited.

Just before the fight however, Burnett underwent a routine medical scan and was told by a neurologist that he had a brain abnormality. Over the phone in an apartment in Manchester, he was told he would never be able to fight again.

The Belfast bantamweight refused to give up and fought as much outside the ring as he did inside in order to convince doctors he could fight again.

A year passed until he got the all-clear to enter the ring again, but after four fights with Hatton Promotions Burnett's career stalled.

He soon split from the Hatton stable and found himself, alongside his father, Brian, homeless for a six-week period as they were forced to sleep in a jeep that had been lent to them by the former world champion.

Rising from the canvas once again, Burnett teamed up with David Haye’s former trainer Adam Booth and fought his first fight with his new coach on a small show at the Devenish Complex in west Belfast in 2014.

A dozen fights later and in June the the boxer from the Antrim Road in north Belfast, ripped the IBF bantamweight title from British fighter Lee Haskins and became a world champion aged just 25.

Following the title win, the young Holy Family scrapper’s profile skyrocketed. Now you can walk past Burnett murals on the streets of Belfast and frequently here his name uttered among the best.

Not one to slow down, on Saturday night in front of a packed audience at the SSE arena and not six months since becoming a world champion, Ryan Burnett won a unanimous decision victory over the Kazakh fighter Zhanat Zhakiyanov for the WBA bantamweight title.

With that, Burnett became the first ever Irish fighter to unify a division on home soil and put the nights of sleeping in cars in supermarket car parks well behind him.

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