Former bantamweight champion Ryan Burnett (20-1, 10 KO) returned from the longest layoff of his career Friday evening, orchestrating a sixth-round stoppage over Jelbirt Gomera (14-6, 7 KO) at the storied Ulster Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Burnett’s backyard.
Fighting in front of a capacity crowd, Burnett picked apart his naturally larger opponent. Gomera’s brutish tactics and complaints of low blows could not stop the inevitable as the Belfast stylist curled punches into the Filipino’s midsection to set himself up for a possible showdown with Naoya Inoue.
“That’s the longest I’ve ever been out,” Burnett said after the fight. “It’s good to be back and shake off the rust. That extra few pounds [Gomera] was carrying, I felt it.”
The TKO victory marked Burnett’s first since last November when a startling back injury knocked him out of the World Boxing Super Series. A career at 118 pounds, Burnett decided to make his debut under the Top Rank Promotions banner at the super bantamweight limit of 122 pounds to get back in shape.
“I make bantamweight quote comfortable. I was eager to fight again. And I got the win, now it’s time to put the head down and get serious again,” Burnett said.
Burnett, 26, was cool as ever opening the fight: jogging around his man, targeting his opponent’s head with precision jabs. The 26-year-old Gomera managed to pressure Burnett into the corner in Round 2. But the house fighter only motioned with his hand for more action as he easily avoided damage.
The dance continued over the next three rounds. Ducking, and feinting, Burnett alternated what he had in his toolbox: stepping to the outside of Gomera’s lead foot to spear straight right hands up the middle or hurling exaggerated hooks to his opponent’s ribcage.
The visiting brawler did his fair share of slugging, but often grabbed and held before he began cajoling referee John Latham to warn Burnett for low blows. Burnett was eventually deducted a point in the sixth stanza. But Gomera pushed his luck.
Two minutes into the fateful round, Burnett’s fists oscillated into Gomera’s belly. Eventually a left hand pierced him in the liver and he turned away from the action. Gomera was fed up with the abuse—a far cry from his scrap against Hidenoru Otake in 2017 but no different than his spurning to the pillow-fisted Can Xu last year.
Referee Latham stepped in again, for good.
Burnett’s homecoming comes on the heels of Inoue’s semifinals matchup with Emmanuel Rodriguez. Once the tournament has concluded, Inoue will also reportedly sign with Top Rank, making for a delectable contest between him and Burnett, two of the elite bantamweights on the planet.
In chief support, another of Belfast’s leading men came out victorious as Marco McCullough (22-4, 12 KO) kept his dreams of world title fight alive with a third-round knockout of Declan Geraghty (18-4, 4 KO).
McCullough, 29, needed three rounds to adjust to his opponent’s rangy, unorthodox approach. Geraghty walked him down in the first round. But McCullough took a few steps back toward the ropes before planting his back foot down and simultaneously firing a straight right hand that connected cleanly to the jaw of the taller Irishman.
Geraghty, 30, stole back Round 2 which was particularly dull. The fighters seemed to mimic one another: holding their hands below their waists, initiated no offense but awkward shoulder feints. All it took was an occasional lunging jabs to secure the round of minimal action.
The third period saw McCullough take back the center of the ring and target his man’s midsection. Less than a minute left in Round 3, McCullough sent a jab upstairs and followed it up with a perfect short right hand to Geraghty leaning over, smacking him directly on the chin. The Northern Irishman was stretched out in a crucifix as referee Steve Gray counted him out.
“I knew it was going to be a good fight,” McCullough shared during the post-fight interview. “I was in the best shape I’ve ever been. “In my 30th year, I couldn’t afford a loss. So I needed that. I couldn’t live with myself if I lost here. This was a great atmosphere.”
With the IBF’s European strap in tow, McCullough is keeping his countrymen’s prior success in mind as he targets bigger fights.
“Jono Carrol had this belt before and it pushed him to world level. I’m ready to go again.”
Some one-two from McCullough. Took three rounds to time his man overextending himself pic.twitter.com/bK294OUA1s
— Robert Aaron (@PaperweightRob) May 17, 2019