'You have to become another person to get in the ring and do what you do' says unified world champion Ryan Burnett
UNIFIED world bantamweight champion Ryan Burnett says he has to become “another person” to perform at his best in the ring.
Burnett, who added the WBA belt to his IBF title in a 12-round slugfest against rock-hard Kazakh Zhanat Zhakiyanov a fortnight ago, was honoured with a civic reception in Belfast City Hall yesterday.
The north Belfast fighter, who has based his training with Adam Booth in London, was relaxed and friendly as he mixed with fans who had turned out to salute his achievement. But anyone who watched him in action against Zhakiyanov will be in no doubt about the size of his warrior's heart.
“There were many, many times when I should have turned away from the sport and I've had to go through a lot of things that other people haven't had to,” said Burnett.
“I've always had the will to keep going and it has really paid off for me. If I have any qualities I'd have to say one is that I want it.”
He added: “What fighters do is an inhuman act. You have to prepare yourself to fight another man, nobody really wants to do that and to get in that mindset takes weeks of preparation and you have to be single-minded in everything you do.
“At the end of the day, when the training camp is over and everything is said and done, you're standing in the ring with another man who really wants to hurt you. You have to become another person to get in the ring and do what you do.”
Burnett, who started off as an amateur under the watchful eye of current Belfast Kronk coach Tony Dunlop, reflected on his win over the Ricky Hatton-trained Zhakiyanov.
“It was a bit of a brawl, I got pulled into having a good scrap,” he said.
“That's the way I had to adapt to that fight, I couldn't do it any other way because he wasn't for slowing down; he was a bit of a wrecking train.
“I said to my corner: ‘I'm going to have to stand with him' because I knew that if I stayed on the back foot it would look like I was running and I would lose the rounds.
“In the training camp we trained to deal with that situation if it ever came around and it came from the first round so I had to change my gameplan. But all the hard work was done and it paid off.”
Burnett's second world title came in only his 18th fight (it took Anthony Joshua 19 fights to get to that stage) and he believes the best has yet to come.
“I've only had 18 fights and at 25 I know I've got plenty to learn,” said Burnett.
“I class myself still as a student in the game. I am far from my best, I think I'll be at my best at the age of 27/28, so I'm looking forward to seeing where my career is by the time I get there.
“But for now I'm going to rest up. I had two massive fights there back-to-back and it wasn't as if they were over quickly, they both went the distance and I took some punishment.
“In the first fight I had my head split open and the second was just as gruelling. I want to rest up and in the new year get back at it and take it from there.
“I'll probably look at three fights a year and I'm blessed to have such a good team around me. Matchroom are up there with the best promoters in the world and they know what they're doing so I'll just focus on my job which is training hard and staying disciplined.”
When he returns to training at Adam Booth's London gym he'll prepare to chase the two bantamweight titles which currently elude him. The WBC belt is held by Luis Nery who failed a recent pre-fight drug test while Zolani Tete, who appears on next month's Carl Frampton bill in Belfast, hold the WBO belt.
“Adam took me under his wing when things weren't going well for me,” said Burnett.
“He's one of the best coaches in the world and it would have been very easy for him to turn a blind eye because at the time I was a nobody, I wasn't doing anything.
“But he gave me the chance and one chance was all I needed to prove that I'm worthy. Since then our relationship has grown into something very, very good.”
JAMES Tennyson wants to “shoot for the stars” and says he won't hesitate to grab the chance to fight for the world title.
The hammer-handed Lisburn super-featherweight, who has won his last three fights with spectacular stoppage wins, is in no mood to hang around in his career that includes 20 victories (16 early) and two defeats so far.
His manager Mark Dunlop has already been in discussions with Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn about pushing the Irish and WBA International titlist to the next level.
“We're going to get an eliminator and I'll just go for it,” said Tennyson yesterday.
“I want to shoot for the stars. When your opportunity comes, you take it. Some might say I'm rushing it but the opportunity has arisen and I'm going to take it.
“I never doubt myself in any situation and I'll go for it and give it 100 per cent.”
In April last year Tennyson travelled to London to take on reigning British champion Ryan Walsh at London's Copper Box Arena. That proved a step too far for him, but he feels he has improved since then and now has the tools to take the step up to world title level.
“You could say that was too early for me but I had weight trouble at the time,” he explained.
“I was drained. My energy levels were low and before I even hit the ring I wasn't feeling good. I've put that loss behind me and I'm up a weight and feeling comfortable and strong.
“Things are looking good, I've been blowing people away and my performances are a lot better.”
He added: “The power has fallen into place as I've gone along.
“I've matured into my body and filled out a wee bit. The power has just came along with it as I've matured.
“Defensively I can improve, I can improve on every aspect, every fight I'm improving so there's plenty to work on but we're getting it done.”
Coach Tony Dunlop added: “I first saw James when he was about 10 or 11 and he always was a tough wee fighter, a special fighter.
“He had toughness from day one and he has carried it through and now his punching power is improving. He's knocking them out and physically he's getting stronger.
“I was walking down the street today and some guy shouted to me: ‘That kid Tennyson doesn't need a referee'. There was a lot of controversy this week with the Joshua stoppage but he says James doesn't need a ref, or judges.”