Adam Booth reflects on Ryan Burnett progress on eve of world title rumble
ADAM Booth admits it might have made sense for Ryan Burnett to hang up his gloves and get a job three years ago.
North Belfast bantamweight Burnett, who takes on IBF champion Lee Haskins at the Odyssey Arena on June 10, had talent and determination but very little else when he and Booth hooked up.
After splitting with then coach Ricky Hatton, Burnett travelled from Manchester to London hoping for a fresh start and he was living out of a car (it wasn't even his car) when Booth agreed to take him on.
“He hadn't boxed for a while and his personal circumstances weren't great,” says Booth, the man who guided David Haye to world titles at cruiser and heavyweight.
“Realistically I suppose it's a surprise he didn't just give up and go home and look at something else. Somehow he managed to keep some blind faith and we hooked up. From the start I had to belief in him and it's gone really well up to now.”
Booth knows from his own experience how the best laid plans can often go awry. As a youngster he always thought he'd become either a fighter or a professional footballer, but his life didn't pan out that way.
A talented semi-pro, he played a trial game for Tottenham and against Man City but “played absolutely shit and didn't get a look in” and had also turned pro after a promising career in amateur boxing. In a flash it was all over.
“A mate called me one Saturday morning and asked me if I'd come and play. He said he'd give me 120 quid,” he explains.
“I was like ‘alright' so I drove over there and 15 minutes into the game I was on the floor. I don't know if I ever got the 120 quid!
“It ended everything. There was a lot of nerve damage and I knew from the injury that I was never going to box or play football again.
“But everything worked out well because I think I'm a better coach than I was a fighter.”
Booth, who also has Limerick middleweight Andy Lee and Billy Joe Saunders (the man who took his WBO title away from him) and Charlie Edwards in his stable, saw rich potential in Burnett from day one.
“I thought he had the elements that are essential for someone to be able to operate at a high level,” he said.
“I thought that with the right application, the right mindset and the right understanding he would progress. He has desire and determination and he is disciplined, he's quick and very clever and he's strong. Those are very good raw elements to work with.”
Those “raw elements” combined with hard work have enabled Burnett to win a steady stream of titles that began with the WBO European strap back in October 2015.
A month later he out-pointed Jason Booth to win the British title which he defended late last year in a slugfest with Ryan Farrag and Burnett has also won and defended the WBC International belt. That's a decent stash of experience to take into his duel with Haskins next month.
“The most important thing a coach can give a young fighter is an understanding of why he does things, why he feels a certain way, why he reacts a certain way,” says Booth.
“It's not just the work we do in the gym, Ryan lives with me when he's in England so we spend hours talking about things – fights and scenarios – and we have very good conversations.
“He has definitely matured inside the ring and outside it.”
While Burnett is fresh-faced and up-and-coming, southpaw Haskins is every inch the grizzled pro. Now 33, he has enjoyed a swansong late in his career thanks to a tailor-made, awkward fighting style that saw him named IBF bantamweight champ after Randy Caballero was stripped of the title last year.
Since then he defended the belt against Ivan Morales (younger brother of renowned ring warrior Erik Morales) and Stuart Hall in September last year.
Booth has been poring over footage of the Chris Sanigar-trained Bristol fighter hoping to “get in his head”.
“Haskins will want to get his flow, his rhythm and his style asserted early so he feels comfortable and he can do what he does and has done repeatedly,” said Booth.
“We're working on nullifying his best attributes and exposing his weaknesses. We've got about five weeks of training time left. The timing feels perfect.
He adds: “I'm a great believer that you can't go into a fight banking on the other guys' weaknesses or him not being able to do something.
“You have to envisage Lee Haskins being better than he has before and prepare for that. This fight is so evenly matched that there are different ways for both of them to win and lose it. Ryan has such genuine confidence in what he does – not just blind, ignorant confidence – that we can talk about it.
“We can say ‘if you do that he'll get a grip of it and you're going to have a hard night' or ‘if you do that you should start taking control…' That's how we can talk and he feeds off that kind of honesty.
“I'm confident that we know the threat that Lee Haskins poses and we are working on taking that off him and exposing his vulnerabilities using Ryan's strengths. That's the battle plan.
“Lee Haskins has got a very specific style – how he moves, when he punches, how he punches, how he ties people up, why he ties people up… I'm studying him and I'm trying to get in his head.
“He is very easy to underestimate, that's for sure and he has total belief in what he does. This why we're in it, we're in it to have world title fights and to be challenged at the highest level. How lucky are we to be in this position and having this challenge?
“It will be a technical battle as well as a physical one and I'm loving it.”
He has been to Belfast with Burnett before – for a small hall show at the Devenish Complex at the start of their journey in late 2014. He describes Burnett as “a genuine Belfast boy” and hopes fans come out in their droves to cheer him on in the biggest fight night in the city since Carl Frampton dethroned Kiko Martinez on that unforgettable night at the Titanic Slipway.
“I want to make sure that Ryan wins the fight and does everything he can to win the fight,” said Booth.
“Aside from that, Ryan is a genuine Belfast boy, that's what he is – a Belfast boy. It's so nice to go there – not for a six-rounder or an eight-rounder or an international title fight – but for a world title fight.
“We're not expecting people to shell out their money to watch a fight that's 80-20 in Ryan's favour, we're going in there and he's challenging a genuine champion who has only lost once in nine years.
“We are that confident Ryan can produce the goods and we hope people realize that there's a real scenario here and that they come out and support him.”
Booth been around the block before, most notably with Haye but with George Groves, Andy Lee and others too. Where would he rank a Burnett win at the Odyssey?
“Ask me that after the fight,” he says. I will.