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Ryan Burnett aware of the risks involved ahead of Belfast clash

Ryan Burnett is the defending IBF bantamweight champion
Ryan Burnett is the defending IBF bantamweight champion

Ryan Burnett recognises he has taken a "high-stakes risk" by pursuing a unification match-up with fellow bantamweight world champion Zhanat Zhakiyanov.

In the 25-year-old's first defence of his IBF title, he is also fighting to win that of the WBA from his former stablemate from Kazakhstan.

Even in his home city of Belfast where he became a world champion, Burnett acknowledges the danger his more mature opponent will represent at the SSE Arena and when, in Ricky Hatton, has a trainer with significant knowledge of him.

Burnett was also trained by Hatton until he moved to work with Adam Booth, a trainer generally considered cautious in his match-making and at a time when fighters generally pursue less challenging opponents for their first title defence.

Ahead of the first ever unification world title fight in Northern Ireland, however, Burnett said: "We could have swerved this fight but the opportunity to unify the division came up and sometimes you have to take risks. If you gamble at high stakes, the rewards are big, but so are the risks.

"We're flipping the coin and when I win, I'll reap the rewards.

"I'm still a baby in the sport with a lot to learn, but I am in a great position and the only way is up.

"Zhakiyanov's a very tough man but he's got ability too, but I know he's there to be beaten and if someone is going to take that title off him, it's me.

"We sparred a lot five years ago but I was only 19 and I hadn't developed, hadn't had a pro fight whereas he was 27, a strong man and fighting for the European title, so I don't look at that at all."

The 33-year-old Zhakiyanov became the first fighter to be led to a world title by Hatton, when in Ohio in February he recovered from two knockdowns to defeat then-defending champion Rau'shee Warren.

On Friday he weighed in at 8st, 5lbs, 4oz - two ounces lighter than his opponent - and he said: "Ryan was a young pro at the time we sparred and has developed into a worthy champion. However, he needs to understand that I have also developed and travelled around the world fighting better opposition.

"I don't know if Ryan has that experience and heart that I have. I don't believe that that he's the best that I have faced so far. I'd say Karim Guerfi and Rau'shee Warren are better."

Press Association

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