Belfast bantamweight Ryan Burnett 18-0 (9) sometimes has to pinch himself to realise what he has already achieved in just five year as a pro.
The reigning WBA “super” champion, who added the Panamanian sanctioning body’s strap to his IBF title with unanimous decision win over Zhanat Zhakiyanov last October, will be looking to build on that success when he takes on mandatory challenger Yonfrez Parejo 21-2-1 (10) of Venezuela on the undercard of the big Anthony Joshua versus Joseph Parker heavyweight unification fight at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales this Saturday night.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself to realise I’ve won two world titles at the age of 25,” Burnett told Sky Sports a few days out from his fight against Parejo which will take place in front of more than 80,000 fans. “But if I’m honest, I don’t really feel like world champion yet. I think when my career is over I’ll realise what I’ve done.”
Burnett turned pro in 2013 and won his first world title just four years later when he outpointed Lee Haskins over 12 rounds in what was the Bristol southpaw’s third title defence. Last month Burnett vacated the IBF belt rather than defend against that sanctioning body’s mandatory contender.
It is not a decision that Burnett regrets.
“It wasn’t frustrating at all, I don’t focus on anything that is outside of my control,” he said. “The belt being taken off me was out of my control. And it is what it is, I’m still world champion and I didn’t lose the belt, it was taken off me. It is what it is.”
The fight against Parejo will take place in front of the largest live crowd Burnett has performed in front of. The magnitude of the opportunity is not lost on Burnett.
“It’s a massive, massive stage and the entire world of boxing is tuning in to watch,” said Burnett. “And now I have an opportunity to show what I’ve got on the big stage and I’m very excited for it.”
His opponent Parejo is a solid contender. The 31-year-old has twice challenged for the WBA interim bantamweight title, losing by TKO8 to Hugo Ruiz in 2012 and holding Zhakiyanov to a split decision in 2015.
“He’s my mandatory challenger and he’s not in that position of nothing,” said Burnett. “He comes with a great record and he’s a great talent himself. But when you get to world level boxing these are the type of fights that come with the territory.”
If Burnett comes through Saturday night’s fight unscathed, there are plenty of opportunities ahead for the young champion. But for now, Burnett is only focused on one thing.
“There’s a lot going on in the bantamweight division at the moment, but I haven’t focused on anything bar Mach 31st. When I win on Saturday, I’ll then focus on what’s next,” he said.
If Burnett has his way, that will include bringing another world title fight back to Belfast.
“I will take this belt back to Belfast and I will have another show in Belfast definitely,” Burnett said.