Talking Boxing

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Burnett delivers

Ryan Burnett


Tony Bellew will grab the headlines for his latest quiet night at the office, but it was a young man from Northern Ireland who owned the night at Liverpool’s Echo Arena.

After a wild three-round demolition fuelled with fire and adrenaline, WBC cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew left behind the disposed challenge of BJ Flores to hurl angry words at former cruiserweight and heavyweight champion David Haye. A rivalry that has been born out of Bellew’s belief that Haye’s latest heavyweight comeback has conned the public.

In the months to come the pound signs will chi-ching around both teams, with a likely pay-per-view date not a million miles away. But before the theatrics and histrionics there was a performance delivered from Ryan Burnett (15-0, 9 KOs) that reinforced the belief that it is when, not if, he will become a world champion.

The 24-year-old British bantamweight title holder was making the first defence of his championship on away soil in front of local support for Ryan Farrag, a former 118lbs European champion. It should have been a lion’s den inside the Echo Arena, but at times it sounded like the big cats were sleeping.

Farrag had told Talking Boxing in the build-up to the eagerly awaited fight that he would "put it on" Burnett, if he didn’t feel the champion’s power. Farrag didn’t wait to feel any hurting bombs, he decided to test the Belfast starlet’s mettle from the opening bell.

It felt cagey, it felt explosive early on, with the first four rounds being shared on my scorecard. Farrag was gambling with right hands from distance, Burnett wasn’t afraid to exchange and was winding up the timing of his shots until it began to peak in the fifth session. A 180-second spell that seemed to allow the more mobile and versatile Burnett to take a grip on the contest and assert his dominance.

This was the performance that many a fan, pundit, journalist and his promoter Eddie Hearn had been waiting for. The shackles had been removed. The slick boxing against the likes of Jason Booth and Anthony Settoul in fights previous still remained, but there was more spitefulness about Burnett’s work in this match-up.

At one point in round six Burnett had the confidence, somewhat arrogance, to pounce from distance like a jungle cat himself catching Farrag clean. It was from distance, it was risky but it was over and done with before Farrag knew what to do next. The difference in speed was evident. There was, however, no difference in heart as the challenger time and time again kept finding reserves to push Burnett back making it a competitive fight during portions of most of the rounds.

If that didn’t earn Farrag his stripes for the night, then the resilience to withstand hooks to the body did, At times they sounded like they came from a loaded weapon and not a fist. Thus earning Farrag further plaudits, and ensured that this is not the last big domestic fight we will see him in.

“I was hitting him thinking ‘Please go away’, but he didn’t,” said Burnett afterwards.

Farrag, who went to Belgium one night last October to punch the fight out of Stephane Jamoye to become European bantamweight champion, was doing all he could to withstand the assaults from Burnett who looked to be enjoying himself much more than he has done in most of his previous one-sided contests.

There was an unrelenting thirst from Burnett to go through Farrag. To be the stronger man on the inside, to throw uppercuts like his life depended on it, and to put on the kind of show that has taken him to a level that puts him much nearer a world title opportunity than ever before.

“Do you want to be a champion?” Burnett’s trainer Adam Booth asked him as the champion sat down on his stool at the end of round 11.

“What do you want me to do?” Burnett replied. The student preparing to follow out any instruction from a teacher that has a habit of moulding star prospects into world title challengers and champions.

“Dominate,” Booth demanded.

Burnett saw out the final three minutes to successfully defend his Lonsdale belt. Domination was reflected on the scorecards with 118-111, 117-111 and 118-110 providing realistic evidence to what had gone on in the 36 minutes beforehand.

It was a release for Burnett, a weight off his shoulders… a night when Ryan Burnett delivered on what many knew he was capable of. The world is at his feet.