It’s the kind of cruelty that seems to thrive in the world of boxing.
Just two weeks shy of a World Boxing Super Series final which had been pinpointed as the gateway to Irish Boxing immortality for Ryan Burnett, the fighter has been proven a mere mortal after being forced to retire through injury.
The Belfast 27-year-old revealed injuries have taken their toll and as a result hung up the gloves before reaching his peak – and just days before Naoya Inoue and Nontino Donaire’s massive WBSS decider.
The Japanese and Filipino will do battle for the Muhammad Ali trophy, the WBA and IBF world titles, and the crown as the best super bantamweight in the planet.
The hurtful thing for Burnett is he should be planning for that winner takes battle bout rather than his future outside boxing at this moment in time.
The Youth Olympic Gold medal winner entered the tournament that included Filipino four-weight world champion Donaire , Russian former amateur star Misha Aloyan , Dominican former bantamweight champ Juan Carlos Payano , Australian Jason Moloney, then-IBF world champ Manny Rodriguez as well as Japanese ‘Monster’ Inoue and WBO champ Zolani Tete as favourite and #1 seed.
He made the bold move of picking future Hall of Famer, Donaire as his quarter final opponent – and was on course to register an eye catching victory before a freak back injury during that Glasgow fight forced him to retire on his stool.
Donaire, who is also a Belfast favourite, progressed as a result, won a routine semi final after Tete pulled out and competes in a high profile final in Japan in just over one week’s time.
It’s more than safe to say the former Ricky Hatton and Adam Booth-trained fighter would have been Inoue’s final dance partner and he would have been in line to win all the accolades up for grabs.
In fact, he would have been fighting for them and more, as WBSS victory could have seen Burnett lay claim to the ‘Greatest Irish Pro Fighter of All Time’ tag. Some may argue otherwise but look at what tournament victory has done for the like of Josh Taylor, Callum Smith and Alezander Usyk’s standing.
Granted with the likes of Carl Frampton looking to become our first three weight world champ, Katie Taylor [our greatest sports star] breaking records like Greeks break plates at parties and with the ambitious Michael Conlan on the scene how long he would have kept it for would remain to be seen.
However, winning a tournament that had the very best of the weight in it by defeating one of the most feared fighters on the planet to become a two-time unified world champion, would surely have seen Burnett hailed by the majority as the greatest. And he could have achieved such a status well before he turned 30 – and with a whole host of new boxing worlds still to conquer.
It wasn’t to be and retirement takes away Burnett’s greatest of all time chance.
However, it has to be remembered that the Belfast fighter got within touching distance of immortality and did so in a relatively short stint.
Any fighter that achieved that is a great and there is no doubt that the former Kronk and Holy Family amateur is one the finest we produced in the sport we excel at most.
Not to mention Burnett got where he did the hard way.
One aesthetically-pleasing scar aside, the hardship may not show on the undamaged boy band pretty face but Burnett had to come through tough times.
After being lauded as a future star from as far back as his 2010 Youth Olympic success, the now retired fighter looked like he had his future mapped out for him.
Olympic success looked likely for the best underage fighter at light fly at the time and a medal there would see him move seamlessly into the pro ranks.
However, back injury during his amateur days saw him miss a year, fall behind in terms of possible Olympic picks, and he elected to jump straight into the pro ranks following defeat to Mick Conlan in his Senior debut.
He turned over with Ricky Hatton in 2012 as an excited 18-year-old with the world at his feet only for misfortune to strike again.
His career was left hanging in the balance even before he has landed a punch in the paid ranks following a failed brain scan.
The issue was finally sorted and then Hatton fighter debuted back in 2013. There was another brain scan issue in 2014 that prevented Burnett fighting on a big Carl Frampton undercard, but the problem was more a timing one than a medical issue. Still it caused a stir and raised concern around a young fighter.
With Hatton enduring turbulent times, Burnett parted ways with the Manchester legend, but still wasn’t give up on his world title dream.
In fact so hungry was he to succeed that he spent weeks homeless living in a car as he searched for a new gym, trainer and promoter.
The end of a turbulent time finally came when the former unified world champ teamed up with Adam Booth. It appeared a dream team and dream results started to come about.
Burnett finally got to show his supreme talents en route to fulfilling his world title dream in front of his home fans on June 10 2017 thanks to victory over Lee Haskins.
Before the year was over Burnett would be unified champion, following in the footsteps of former amateur team mate Carl Frampton. Headlining the Odyssey in Belfast again, Burnett took the WBA title off Zhanat Zhakiyanov, on 21 October.
Such wins and such achievements put Burnett in exalted company and he was been talked about as potential Irish GOAT.
When the WBSS came around it looked like he had the chance to grab the mantle by the horns and make it his own.
However, as we have said, that wasn’t to be, nor should it detract from the greatness of the entertaining fighter’s achievements and what he came through to achieve them.
‘Gutted’ is the most common word in the sympathetic reactions dominating social media last week – but it wasn’t one used by the fighter himself.
Ryan Burnett leaves the game satisfied and happy, possibly because during the various troubled times early in his career he’d have taken one world title win, never mind two and the status of a great.