IT is a new dynamic for Ryan Burnett this Saturday at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff when the Newington man defends his WBA bantamweight title against Yonfrez Parejo (21-2-1).

Having fought for and won two world title belts in 2017 against Lee Haskins (IBF) and Zhanat Zhakiyanov, it is now the 25 year-old who is the man everyone in the 118lb division is gunning for.
That brings its own pressures, but for a man with a steely determination such as the North Belfast man, the big fights and the big stage will fade away into the background. It's another opponent and another ring.

His opponent this Saturday on the Sky Box Office card headlined by the heavyweight blockbuster between Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker is 31 year-old, Parejo.

His mandatory challenger for the WBA title he won off Zhakiyanov at the SSE Arena last time out, the man from Venezuela is a former WBA interim champion, surrendering that belt to the Kazakh Burnett overcame back in October.

That defeat in November 2015 came by way of split decision, Burnett of course scoring a unanimous win over Zhakiyanov, but was made to fight all the way in what turned out to be a brutal war that saw both men finish the night in hospital.

The Belfast man will be hoping for a less intense night in Cardiff on Saturday, but now that he is the man everyone in the division is wanting the beat, his trainer, Adam Booth says Burnett must be prepared for the best Parejo there has ever been.

“He's a world champion now and he has won two belts, beating two champions,” said the Londoner.

“Now, he's got a challenger, coming to take the title off him, so he's the hunted now.

“It's like how Manchester United were. It didn't matter if they were playing a third division team, the opposition played so much better against them than they would everyone else around them because that's their chance to do something.

“So, he needs to get used to that position, remain focussed and calm, and beat down the challenger.”

It's a saying that sport and politics shouldn't mix, but in the world of professional boxing, politics goes hand-in-hand and as with most ruling bodies, that law can indeed be an ass.

As a unified champion, Burnett was handed a quite unfair ultimatum from the IBF and WBA - face our number one challenger next or vacate the respective belt.

That left him with two choices - face Parejo for the WBA title he won last time out, or to keep the IBF happy by signing to fight Manny Rodriguez.

That the Puerto Rican's team let their negotiations go straight to purse bids - potentially leaving Burnett in a situation where he would have to defend on hostile ground - while the Parejo deal was relatively straightforward made it an easy call for Burnett, Booth and promoter Eddie Hearn.
While there can be an element of frustration that he had to vacate one of his titles, Booth says that is not a major issue for his man.

“He's world champion - he won the IBF belt, he won the WBA belt,” he stressed.

“We understand the business. There's four champions out there and four mandatories (challengers) out there.I know that sometimes you can't keep hold of the belts. There were two mandatories waiting and we had to choose one.

“The one we went with was the WBA because there had already been a conversation and it was a fight we could put together quite quickly and that's why it is.”

Having stepped out of the shadows in 2017, this is another huge opportunity for the vastly talented Burnett to shine on a massive stage with a worldwide audience including many 'casual fans' who may not have caught a glimpse of the North Belfast man previously.

If there is one man who possesses the temperament to put all the hoopla to one side and focus on the job, it's Burnett.

There could be the temptation to try and dazzle, but he is a man who boxes to orders and doesn't stray from the plan devised by Booth.

It has been a winning combination so far and on Saturday, it ought to produce a familiar outcome again - likely after 12 rounds they hope will be nowhere near as gruelling as October in Belfast.
“He is crazy focussed,” Booth agrees.

“I just want him to do his job and if his job ends up making a statement, then I'm happy. Before that, we want to win first and then we can add the entertainment value after.”