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Boxing Introduction: WBA bantamweight champion Zhanat Zhakiyanov

Ahead of his bantamweight unification bout against Ryan Burnett on Saturday, we take a closer look at the Kazakh.


With a record of 27-1, only marred by a points decision loss in his sixth professional bout, WBA bantamweight champion Zhanat Zhakiyanov is making a name for himself in boxing circles. Under the tutelage of former light welterweight and welterweight world champion Ricky Hatton, “ZZ” has claimed world honours at the age of 33 as he looks to peak after ten years as a professional.

Early career

Making his professional debut in Kazakhstan in 2007, Zhanat Zhakiyanov has since crafted a route to the elite level at 118lbs. With five straight wins against similar level opponents, “ZZ” made the step-up in his sixth outing as he took on the unbeaten Russian Sakhib Usarov in Ramenskoye. Fighting outside of his home nation for the first time, the challenger came unstuck in the eight-rounder against the then 23-year-old, with scores reading 80-73, 77-75, 80-74 to Usarov.

With this fight taking place at super bantamweight, Zhakiyanov have since moved between the weights, with 116lbs to 122lbs being explored by the Kazakh, with the bantamweight limit of 118lbs looking the most comfortable. 

in 2011, Zhakiyanov was picked up by Hatton Promotions, making his British debut at the Tower Circus in Blackpool on a show headlined by Ricky’s brother Matthew Hatton. Securing a fifth round stoppage of journeyman Anwar Alfadli, the Kazakh began to impress his team with win after win coming by way of KO or TKO. 

In 2013, Zhakiyanov made the decision to move to the UK to train with Ricky Hatton at the Hatton Health and Fitness Centre in Hyde. At 29, “ZZ” felt that this move would benefit his career greatly as he looked to follow in the footsteps of some of his boxing idols. Speaking at the time, Zhakiyanov said – 

“I’m very happy and very proud to be trained by Ricky because he is one of the greatest boxers in history. I am new to this country, but I do not mind being away from home because I am a survivor and have lived through many things. Boxers from Kazakhstan often go to other countries to become world champions and I am the same. Vassiliy Jirov was my idol and he boxed mainly in America. I hope I can have a career like his here with Ricky.”

Still undefeated since his move to work with Hatton, Zhakiyanov blitzed through the challenges of Karim Guerfi, Hector Rolando Gusman and notably Yonfrez Parejo to secure the interim WBA bantamweight title; setting him up for his first shot at world honours.

World champion

On February 10 earlier this year Zhakiyanov travelled to Ohio to challenge for Rau’shee Warren’s WBA bantamweight strap. After claiming the WBA title following back-to-back bouts against Dominican Republic’s Juan Carlos Payano, “Baby Pit” made the first defence of his gold against the relatively unknown and unheralded Kazakh as a clear favourite with the bookmakers, with Zhakiyanov fighting in a different country for the sixth time in a row.

The bout got off to a disastrous start for the challenger who was dropped twice in the opening round with right hands to the head, with Warren looking to get the job done inside the opening three minutes. However, the away fighter rallied in the second and was able to land some huge shots, forcing Warren to hold for the majority of the round; a theme that would continue throughout the fight.

Warren’s fast hands and southpaw stance troubled the Kazakh in the opening round, but once the challenger had negated Warren’s main weapons, he could control the fight at his pace landing heavy shots throughout.

With scores of 115-111 and 116-110 to Zhakiyanov and 115-111 to Warren, the challenger won a split decision to cries of “and the new” from Ricky Hatton and a silence of dismay amongst the Ohio crowd.

– official scorecards of Rau’shee Warren vs Zhanat Zhakiyanov

After the fight, Ricky Hatton expressed his joy at guiding the Kazakh to a world championship – 

“It was very emotional for me, because I know what he put into it, and I knew what I put into it when I was fighting for a world title. He was black and blue obviously, one of his eyes closed. He was on the phone to his wife, his family, his brother, on Facetime and was crying into the phone. A tear came to my eyes. It’s a lifetime dream to call yourself the best fighter in the world.”

With Zhakiyanov becoming the first world champion from “The Hitman’s” gym, “ZZ” will always have a special place in the heart of the Mancunian as he looks to establish a career as a top trainer – 

“From my own personal standpoint, I don’t think there are that many champions that have been a world champion and trained a world champion. It’s another box ticked for when I look back. I retired from boxing, had all my difficult times out of the ring, but this is what it’s all about for me now to bring the next champions through. This is my first one and hopefully more to come.”

Unification

After claiming world honours it was expected that Zhakiyanov may face a voluntary defence in order to protect his title and heighten his profile within the UK, however with the Ryan Burnett fight proving a viable option after the Belfast-boy claimed the IBF crown in June, the lure of a unification bout was too tempting to ignore for the WBA champion and his team.

On Saturday night, Zhakiyanov returns to Belfast for the first time since an outing in 2013, attempting to become the unified WBA and IBF bantamweight champion of the world, and despite being a strong underdog for the bout, the Hatton camp are confident the powerful Kazakh can defy the odds once more.

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Lewis Watson

London based boxing Editor, fanatic and all-round lover of the 'Sweet Science'. Growing up in the 90's, Tyson, De La Hoya and Savon grabbed Lewis' attention at an early age, with Hatton-Tzsyu confirming the obsession in 2005.

As a student of the sport, you'll find him flicking through the archives of past "Sugar" Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali fights, as well as wide-eyed on a Sunday for the 5am Vegas bouts.

Also covering football, darts and tennis content for BetVictor and Betfair.

Boxing Introduction: WBA bantamweight champion Zhanat Zhakiyanov

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