Eddie Hearn outlines what’s next for unified champ Ryan Burnett


The world is unified champion Ryan Burnett‘s oyster following his big win at the weekend.

The Belfast bantamweight took the WBA title from Zhanat Zhakiyanov on Saturday at the SSE Odyssey Arena and added it to the IBF strap he won during the Summer.

Following a big jump up in class to take on Lee Haskins and win the IBF belt in June, Burnett [18(9)-0] went straight into another tough fight – perhaps almost setting a precedent for how his career will progress.

While the Antrim Road man will now take time to recover from his gruelling twelve-round win, attentions are already now on what is next for Ireland’s only current world champion – and just our second unified titlist ever.

Promoter Eddie Hearn outlined that there a numerous possibilities for Burnett.

“Ryan’s not going to be in action for a while,” he noted afterwards. “I can’t see him fighting until March or April. Plenty of options, Belfast, pay-per-view card, America.”

“Your choices are you can have a commercially big defence, that might come against Jamie McDonnell or Paul Butler or those kind of guys. You could try and win another belt, Tete is there, Yamanaka could be reinstated as the WBC champion, we’ll see what happens. Or your other option is to move up. We may move up to super bantam, try and collect titles there.”

Burnett won the IBF title in a bout which former champ Haskins had received a special exception from the governing body for – and so a mandatory defence of the red belt is pending. Currently there is no designated mandatory challenger, meaning the spot effectively goes to the highest-ranked fighter – #3 Emmanuel Rodriguez.

It’s not a fight which Hearn is keen on from a promotional standpoint and he described how “we may have a mandatory to face as well. Emmanuel Rodriguez who is a good fighter. That’s a tough fight.”

“Someone told me he was fighting in a WBC final eliminator, but I don’t know. If Rodriguez is still the mandatory they [the IBF] will call on that, it’s just a matter of when. The Rodriguez fight isn’t a fight that I think would cause a big amount of anticipation and attention for the fans – although it is a very good fight because he’s a very good fighter.”

Now holding two belts, a mandatory may also be incoming from the WBA and this would be preferable for Hearn – who is hoping that ‘regular’ trinket-holder Jamie McDonnell is ordered to fight Burnett, should the Englishman win his fight with Liborio Solis in Monaco on November 4th.

Hearn noted how “earlier on they [the WBA] looked to do it with Rau’shee Warren. Rau’shee Warren chose to fight Zhakiyanov with a special permit – and obviously got beat.I think the winner of next week, the WBA want to clean up the belts and I think they might order that fight.”

“McDonnell and Burnett are, not pals, but have done a lot of rounds sparring together – and it’s Adam Booth and Dave Coldwell, but I think if they have to fight they have to fight. McDonnell was arguably the number one in the division, and now Burnett you have to say is the number one in the division – so a fight between the two would be good. He’s getting on a bit now, he just wants the biggest fights possible. He’s probably got three or five fights left, Jamie McDonnell. You get to a stage in your career where you just want the biggest fights possible and right now, in the division, the biggest fight is Ryan Burnett.”

Of course, rival promoter Frank Warren caused a stir during the Summer when he called for a fight between Burnett and his fighter, WBO champ Zolani Tete. The veteran offered to pay the purses of both fighters, but with Zhakiyanov already agreed, this offer fell on deaf ears.

Tete defends his belt against South African countryman Siboniso Gonya next month in Belfast on the ‘Frampton Reborn’ undercard and Hearn claims to be interested in a match-up with Burnett.

“Tete’s a target for sure. He’s a tough fight,” said the Matchroom boss.

“He’s very good. Frank obviously gave me the opportunity to fight him for nothing, apparently, which was very kind of him. He’s a very good fighter and that’s a fight we could look at for sure. He’s not a name – although Zhakiyanov wasn’t really a name, though he brought Hatton with him and he’s got a big American win.”

In terms of going up in weight, Hearn believes it may too early and reasoned that “he’s making bantamweight, it’s not easy, but it’s not easy for any of these guys.”

“He’s not yet at a stage where he can’t make the weight anymore, but he could quite easily go to super bantamweight and try and become a two-weight world champion.”

“I think the move to super bantam will come, but at 25 you maybe wait one or two more fights – but it’s hard when he’s done it the way he’s doing it.”

Then there is the spectre of a move to America. HBO broadcast the fight Stateside at the weekend, and execs travelled over to Belfast to take in the clash. With Hearn now operating in America alongside HBO with his Matchroom USA endeavour, a Madison Square Garden St Patrick’s Day bonanza with Burnett and Katie Taylor is something which appeals to the 38 year old Essex boxing boss.

“I’ve also thought about them doing a double-header in New York, those two,” said Hearn of Burnett and Taylor – who challenges for the WBA lightweight title this weekend.

“They [HBO] would like him to go to America, but I don’t know. The States would love him, particularly in the last four or five rounds, HBO were loving it. He has the style to take to America, he’s a unified world champion. There’s big fights there. They’re heavily invested in the super bantamweight division at the moment, so they’re asking would he like to go fight for the title there.”

“Planning the future, it’s hard. I don’t really want to lose the momentum here. I feel like if we disappeared, and came back in September… I don’t know. Then again, you’ve Carl [Frampton] fighting in May at Windsor Park and you don’t want to clash around that. He could box on the undercard of a pay-per-view show in February or March if we do one, a Joshua card or whatever.”

Photo Credit: Ricardo Guglielminotti – The Fighting Irish (@ThefIrish)

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Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie