‘I nearly fainted when they said split decision’ – champion Burnett

“I’ve paid my dues to the sport”.

Ryan Burnett smiles as he utters the words.

A heavily-stitched cut above his right eye is the principal battle scar from the Belfast man’s dominant IBF world bantamweight title triumph in his native city over Lee Haskins on Saturday night.

Plans are already in train for a visit to a London plastic surgeon but Burnett isn’t complaining even though a confused judge prevented him from earning the unanimous landslide verdict on the night his total dominance warranted.

The British Boxing Board of Control have insisted said American judge Clark Sammartino will never officiate again in the UK and the IBF confirmed on Monday that the official result will be correctly amended.

In truth, the 25-year-old has had to face bigger adversity on several occasions during his boxing career.

Ryan Burnett won Olympic Youth Games gold in Singapore in 2010

Burnett marked out for boxing stardom

With legendary Holy Family coach Gerry Storey his principal mentor, the North Belfast boy was marked out for boxing stardom from his early teens and duly clinched Olympic Youth Games gold and World Youths silver in 2010.

Then came the first of many setbacks as a bulging disc in his lower back saw him saw out of action for all of 2011.

“For such a young man to have that kind of injury was serious. Getting physio for five or six months to try and put it right,” recalls the north Belfast man.

Worse was to follow in 2012 as a failed scan after he had signed a deal with Ricky Hatton seemed to have ended his professional career before it had even started.

“We had a date set to make my pro debut and we were just going through the medicals.

“But then one day I got a phone call from a neurologist. He told me: ‘We’re sorry. You’ve got a brain problem and you’re not going to be able to box again’.

“My whole world fell around me. I thought my pro career was over but my Dad and I kept fighting it and we had great help from the Hatton team.

“It took just over a year to prove that I was medically fit to fight and had no more risk than any other fighter.”

Burnett signed a pro deal with Ricky Hatton but the pair then went their separate ways

Burnett homeless after split from Hatton

But after finally getting the all-clear to have his first pro bout in May 2013, Burnett’s career stalled after four fights with Hatton Promotions.

The Belfast man remains friends with Hatton and has no desire to go into detail about the split from the Manchester-based promoter.

“He was incredible to me but we both decided it would be in my best interests if I went elsewhere. Me and Ricky Hatton are still friends. We still talk. We just parted ways.”

Burnett’s departure from Hatton’s set-up even led to the fighter and his father Brian becoming 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.

“When I was with Rick, everything was great but it came to a crashing stop when I decided to leave.

“Because I wasn’t getting any money, I wasn’t able to pay my rent and I had to leave where I was living.

“We always pretended everything was fine. We were staying in various places in the south of England and we always had somewhere to park up the car. We knew people who would let us into their house to get cleaned up.

“We were definitely coming to the point when we were thinking that ‘something has to happen here’.

“(But) It wasn’t as rough as what it seems. We just didn’t have anywhere to live.”

Adam Booth’s first bout in Burnett’s corner was in a small show in Belfast in November 2014

Booth unlocks Burnett potential

While finding accommodation was the main task in hand during those six weeks, Burnett was already zeroing in David Haye’s former trainer Adam Booth as the man to unlock his undoubted potential.

“It took a while. I didn’t have anybody for a little while when I was trying to get back on my feet. Even then, I was thinking that my career might have come to a screeching halt,” recalls Burnett.

“I always knew Adam Booth was a fantastic coach. We tried to reach him but we had no reply until we managed to get in touch with somebody in his circle.

“I did a training session with him and we took it from there.

“Once Adam confirmed that he would be my coach, we sat down and made a plan to have as many fights in one year without a promoter, to try and build a bit of a name for myself and then go and look for a promoter.”

Ryan’s first bout with Booth in his corner was on a small show at the Devenish Complex in west Belfast in November 2014 and a week later he was back in action at the famous York Hall in east London.

Exactly a year and six fights later, Burnett had his first contest as one of Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom boxers as he comprehensively outpointed veteran Jason Booth at the Manchester Arena to land the British bantamweight title.

‘Judge made a mistake – Burnett’s win was unanimous’ – Eddie Hearn

The bout at the Devenish Complex proved Burnett’s last fight in his native city before Saturday’s stunning world championship triumph.

“I always knew that I wanted to come back to Belfast for big shows but I knew I would have to be based in England for a while to make a bit of a name for myself.”

Burnett’s skilful display in outclassing Bristol fighter Haskins means he can surely look forward to topping more bills in Belfast in the future.

“I’ve been pushing for this all my life. When I was a young kid, I promised my Dad I would be a world champion.

“And when they said I was a world champion, it was just a surreal moment.”

From sleeping in the back of a car for six weeks, to becoming world bantamweight champion – in less than three years.

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