RYAN BURNETT eased back into world title contention with an impressive performance against Jelbirt Gomera at the Ulster Hall on May 17.

The former unified world champion lost his WBA bantamweight title after a freak back injury forced him out of his World Boxing Super Series quarter-final with Nonito Donaire in November.

Nonito Donaire vs Ryan Burnett
Action Images/Lee Smith

That defeat, the first of his career, stalled the Belfast fighter’s march toward potentially collecting more titles via the tournament and having a serious claim to being one of Ireland’s greatest ever fighters before he even reached his late 20s.

However, the suggestion post-victory in the 26-year-old’s first fight in his home city since 2017 was that doors to a possible third world title shot remain open at either bantam or super-bantam – and the manner in which the win was achieved indicates neither the back injury or the time out have diminished his chances of quick return to world level.

Gomera certainly came to fight and proved for tough for the first five stanzas. However, his workrate wasn’t a match for the skill-set or clean work of a slick Burnett.

The game Filipino took clean shots throughout a high-paced first 15 minutes and despite his best efforts the pressure finally told when referee John Latham stopped the fight 2-01 into the sixth round. Top Rank’s Burnett was docked a point for a low blow early in what turned out to be the last round and pressed the action after.

A left hook to the body then forced Gomera to turn his back. The referee had seen enough and awarded Burnett his first stoppage win since 2015.

Marco McCullough was another to take the quick route to victory, but did so in more spectacular fashion. Just when it looked like the Belfast super-featherweight was losing control of proceedings against former amateur standout Declan Geraghty he produced a potential Knockout of the Year in what was billed as a 50/50 crossroads fight.

With the third round coming to a close McCullough landed a short right hand right on the button, dropping his foe hard. Referee Steve Gray began to administer a count but called a halt to the fight before he reached eight, waving off proceedings 2-23 into the third.

Belfast’s Sean McComb registered another spectacular knockout on the card, but it stood out for reasons different to McCullough’s. “The Public Nuisance” continued his run of being the talk of an undercard as he became the first man to stop Czech champion Miroslav Serban, a fighter who had impressed against soon-to-be European title challenger Paul Hyland Jnr on his last trip to Belfast.

The 26-year-old McComb managed to force referee Hugh Russell Jnr to jump in after just 1-24 of the first round and although Serban was upset with being pulled out, but had taken nigh on 20 seconds’ worth of unanswered punches.

Another former amateur standout in Steven Donnelly also took the short route to victory. In his first fight this year the Rio Olympian finished Edwin Palacios with a perfectly timed left hook to the body, affording him a stoppage win 1-18 into round four of a Paul McCullagh-refereed fight.

Two of Belfast’s more noted punchers, Lewis Crocker and Padraig McCrory, were taken the distance against Londoners Jumanne Camero and Eric Nwankwo respectively. Crocker earned a 60-55 win from Hugh Russell Jnr while the same referee gave McCrory a 60-54 shutout win.

The show’s two debutants, Sean Duffy and Dee “The Vanilla Gorilla” Sullivan, also won by different routes. Keady native Duffy forced referee Eamonn Magill to rescue Croatia’s Antonio Horvatic 47 seconds into the second round of a scheduled four, while Sullivan got four rounds in against Pawel Strykowski, a fighter with plenty of Irish experience having traded leather with Steve Collins Jnr, Paddy Nevin and Conor Cooke in the past. Sullivan was given a 40-36 points win by Paul McCullagh.

Omagh 20-year-old Callum Bradley was another to register a shutout points win, comfortably outscoring Rafael Castillo 40-36 on Eamonn Magill’s scorecard.

The Verdict As long as his body holds up, Burnett still has a future at world level.