Ryan Burnett dealing with lockdown in his typically understated fashion

By Thomas KaneBBC Sport NI
I achieved a lot more than I thought I was going to - Burnett

Adversity definition: "A noun used to define a difficult or unpleasant situation."

Something that we are all currently experiencing on a daily basis.

Something that former world bantamweight champion Ryan Burnett has encountered more than most. Lockdown, because of coronavirus crisis, is just the latest in a long list.

The Belfastman was forced to retire at 27 after a rollercoaster career of highs and lows.

In a sport where insults and trash-talk can be rewarded with big fights, Burnett never engaged with the verbal theatrics, focusing instead on his own performance. Quiet and reserved outside the ring, slick and supremely confident under the bright lights.

Fighting on Joshua-Parker bill

In Easter week two years ago, Burnett was an unbeaten, unified world champion, fighting in front of a global television audience as 80,000 fans packed into the Principality Stadium as part of the undercard of Anthony Joshua's contest with Joseph Parker.

Twenty four months on, his boxing days are over, having started up his own personal training business.

He has spent the last fortnight "studying and trying to use the time wisely". A chance to reflect…

"I miss boxing, every now and again when I am watching fights on TV and when I see my friends training and fighting, it pulls on your heart strings," says the 27-year-old.

"It is something I have started to come to terms with now. I love the sport, it has been my life.

"I am very grateful, but it has only been recently, that I have sat back and thought to myself: 'wow, I did that'.

"I never paused to look back before, it was too fast paced to think like that. Now that I have had the chance, it makes me happy, it makes me proud."

Ryan Burnett with Ricky Hatton at an opening training session in Belfast in 2014
Burnett signed a deal with Ricky Hatton but split with the Englishman only four bouts into his professional career

Failed brain scan

His story was never smooth. Every step along the way, there were setbacks. A gold medal in the Olympic Youth games in 2010, was followed by a back injury that kept him out of the ring for 12 months the following year.

He signed a professional deal with trainer Ricky Hatton on his return, but then failed a routine brain scan, which left his career in the balance.

Told that he would never fight again by his neurologist, Burnett and his family managed to prove after a year that he was medically fit to box again.

Four fights into his pro career and things stalled again. Having parted ways with trainer Hatton, Burnett was left homeless, sleeping in a jeep leant to him by Hatton for six weeks.

Burnett needed a break, and it came in the form of trainer Adam Booth. The corner man for the likes of David Haye and Andy Lee, Booth decided to take Burnett on and the pair developed a close bond.

Burnett was obsessive when in the gym and his hard work was starting to reap rewards. The wins and belts followed. It was his time to shine.

Burnett wins world title despite judge blunder

Lee Haskins stood between Burnett and a world title. In front of a home crowd in Belfast, the script was written to announce his arrival on the global stage, except for Ryan Burnett, nothing comes easy.

In the second round, a deep cut suffered by Burnett from an accidental clash of heads, could have voided the bout, but the referee allowed it to continue.

Burnett flooring his opponent twice over the 12 rounds. A dominant win, or so we thought until the MC declared a split decision.

There was a stunned silence around the SSE Arena. One judge got the two fighters mixed up and awarded Haskins the win.

Thankfully, the other two officials correct scorecards insured that the Antrim Road fighters arm was finally raised. Drama, he could have done without.

Four months later, he unified the division, defeating the Ricky Hatton-trained Zhanat Zhakiyanov.

Next up was Cardiff as one of the chief support fights to Joshua on the worldwide pay per view event, another platform for the Belfast boxer to further enhance his growing reputation. He bamboozled his Venezuelan opponent Yonfrez Parejo, flawless on two of the three judges' cards.

Post-fight, he revealed that he had fought the majority of the contest with a broken hand. It would mean another trip to hospital, another hurdle to overcome. No complaints from Burnett - that wasn't his style.

Ryan Burnett winces with pain after being put on a stretcher following the halting of his bout with Nonito Donaire in November 2018
Ryan Burnett lost his world bantamweight titles when a freak back injury forced a halt to his contest with Nonito Donaire in November 2018

Hammer blow

Then came the hammer blow. Burnett, along with the planet's other best bantamweights, decided to put their belts on the line in the World Boxing Super Series. A lucrative knock-out series that provided a route for Ryan to become the undisputed world champion.

One of the pre-tournament favourites, his first opponent was Nonito Donaire. The Filipino multiple weight world champion, defeated by Carl Frampton in Belfast earlier that year, moving down two weights to enter the series.

It was developing into an absorbing contest, when suddenly, Burnett was forced to take a knee in the fourth having suffered back spasms.

He got back on his feet, but didn't return for the fifth, and was stretched from the ring in agony.

"When it happened, it was horrific, I was in a bad way, I knew that I couldn't continue.

"There was nothing in the build-up, everything was 100%, the doctors told me after that it was a freak accident, they usually see those type of injuries after a car accident."

His unbeaten record gone, his belts gone.

In limbo, with all of the bantamweight belts tied up, he gave his body time to recover-returning to action six months later in Belfast, winning what proved to be his final fight last May.

"Things weren't right, I didn't want to say too much about it, as I wanted it (final fight) to go ahead, but I spoke to the specialists afterwards, did tests, they told me that if I kept going, I was going to cause myself all kinds of problems in the future, so I had to call it a day."

Bids farewell to boxing career

In October, in a typically understated way, he bade farewell to the sport than he loved, due to "injuries sustained during his career and training". His body had had enough.

"When I retired it was tough. You start to think, what am I going to do now? It is very easy to sway off the path and make wrong decisions.

"I was pretty determined, that wasn't going to be the case for me. I focused on business."

He started his personal training business in March, before lockdown meant the doors were temporarily closed within weeks of opening. But he isn't downbeat, and offers the following advice.

"Take this opportunity to learn, study, get a routine, don't let the day get away from you. Put your phone down, pick up a book. Little changes will benefit you."

Dealing with adversity this early in a new venture might be scary for most budding businessmen, but for Burnett, he treats it as just another part of the journey.

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