Boxing

This is what every fighter dreams of admits Ryan Burnett ahead of Nonito Donaire showdown

Belfast bantamweight king Ryan Burnett faces off with Nonito Donaire as Kalle Sauerland of the World Boxing Super Series looks on
From Neil Loughran in Glasgow

SEVENTEEN years after first lacing up gloves at the Belfast Kronk gym, a starry-eyed kid only at the start of the road but already sure of the destination, Ryan Burnett is living a dream he always believed would come true.

Twenty-six years old but already a two-time world champion, on Saturday night he takes his first steps into the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS), the top seed amongst the cream of the bantamweight division.

In the opposite corner will be former four-weight world champion Nonito Donaire. Burnett was only 15 when the ‘Filipino Flash’ scored the knockout of the year in 2007 after detonating a hellraiser of a left hand on the chin of Vic Darchinyan.

Eleven years on, that power hasn’t gone away.

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The Belfast boy hadn’t even turned pro when Donaire was named fighter of the year in 2012. And yet, on Saturday night, the pair will lock horns for a spot in the semi-final of the lucrative tournament and a date with South African southpaw Zolani Tete.

Standing in a quiet spot as the fuss from yesterday’s Glasgow press conference began to die down, it was hard not to wonder what that same kid would have made of it all if he could see what he has become.

“This is what every fighter dreams of - doing exactly this,” said Burnett, who refused to discuss a possible Tete fight down the line (“I’ll answer that on Saturday night”).

“We all dream of these moments of fighting the best and becoming the best in the world.

“I want to provide a good life, I want a secure life and that is what drives me to want to smash every single thing I do. Plain and simple.

“I always knew there was potential for me to have a great life if I dedicated myself to this sport, and thank God that’s exactly what has happened. I’ve been able to provide a great life for myself, so all the hard work was well worth it.”

As first seed in the competition, WBA belt holder Burnett was allowed to choose which opponent he would face first. And the 26-year-old believes a fighter of Donaire’s experience can take him to another level.

“The better the fighter, the better I become,” he added.

“Nonito can bring out the best Ryan Burnett and that’s exactly what I want – the best Ryan Burnett. So the fight made sense.

“I think everyone has things they can exploit, but there’s not much with Nonito. He is an incredible fighter.”

“For him to pick me meant he is willing to gamble for bigger rewards,” said Donaire.

“You can only commend those kind of fighters who are willing to take that kind of risk knowing that I’m a very dangerous guy.”

It is a sign of Burnett’s growing maturity that, following the WBSS draw in Moscow back in July, the two fighters and their partners went out for dinner in the Russian capital.

Donaire famously struck up a solid friendship with another Belfast fighter, Carl Frampton, following their fight last April, and Burnett admits there was a time he would have balked at the idea of breaking bread with the enemy.

“I used to be like that,” he smiles, “but Nonito has been in the game for so long, he’s so experienced, and I’m starting to come into myself and get that experience.

“The fact we could have dinner and have a good chat, we were both on the same vibe.”

“I don’t put a gun to their head,” said Donaire, “if they want to leave and don’t want to do it, I don’t force that upon them.

“I’m always going to be open to that invitation for them to join, to have a conversation like men, and if they’re not willing, they’re not willing. Fortunately he was very sportsmanlike and we had fun.”

There were friendly smiles and nods inside the Jury’s Inn yesterday, but that was as far as it went. Business is business after all, and there will be no love lost when they step between the ropes on Saturday night.

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