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Ryan Burnett: Belfast’s own becomes unified bantamweight champion

With a unanimous points decision over the tough and rugged Zhanat Zhakiyanov on Saturday night, the 25-year-old joins an elite club in world boxing.

With debatably wide scorecards of 118-110, 119-109 and 117-112, Ryan Burnett (18-0) has added the WBA (Super) bantamweight championship to his IBF strap in an electric night at The SSE Arena. Fighting in front of a passionate home crowd in Belfast, Burnett made history in becoming the first Irishman to unify the bantamweight division, at the tender age of 25.

A tough start

Zhanat Zhakiyanov came to Belfast under the tutelage of Ricky Hatton, and from the opening bell it was clear that the Kazakh was adopting rough and aggressive tactics as he looked to spoil Burnett on the inside. Using his strength and power, “ZZ” chased Burnett around the ring in the opening three rounds as the WBA (Super) champion tried to negate Burnett’s superior skill set, turning it into a war.

Landing some powerful overhand rights coupled with some good work to the body of the Northern Irishman, Zhakiyanov looked comfortable in trudging forward despite proving fairly unsuccessful in getting through the Burnett guard in comparison to the amount of shots he was throwing.

Frustrated by the challengers tactics early on, Burnett looked to out-muscle and out-fight Zhakiyanov in the opening stages, with referee Howard Foster having to warn the 25-year-old about the use of the head when they were together in the clinch. 

The middle rounds

The Kazakh got the better of the early rounds, however with the wisdom and patience of Adam Booth in his corner, Burnett regained his composure as the fight progressed and started picking his shots with higher accuracy and precision. 

Despite Zhakiyanov still acting as the aggressor and continuing to march forward, Burnett was able to use his superior footwork to find the space he needed to start offloading his classier and cleaner shots, as the IBF champ delivered short sharp rights to the head and body of of the Kazakh. 

With Burnett beginning to pump his jab out by the time the sixth round came, it was starting to look like the home-favourite had worked out the Kazakh’s style as the Northern Irishman got into a solid rhythm, however in each round Burnett still found himself fighting on the inside in periods, making this fight a lot harder than it should have been.

The home stretch

The remaining rounds continued to be fought at a high pace however with the Kazakh tiring, Burnett was able to hustle on the inside and increase the amount of clean work that he was landing. All of the eye-catching work was done by Burnett in the championship rounds with Zhakiyanov’s power diminishing as each round passed.

A rallied effort by the WBA (Super) champion made the final round hard to split, however as the final bell rang it was clear that Burnett had won the fight despite a nervy and cagey opening to the bout.

This fight looked set to go the distance from the off, however with crisp counter-punching, a high work rate and an unbreakable spirit, the Northern Irishman prevailed in a performance of the highest professional quality.

After the fight, Ryan Burnett was taken to hospital for precautionary measures after feeling unwell in the dressing room, however he was later released to enjoy the celebrations with his team.

Speaking after the fight, Burnett described his slug-fest with the tough Kazakh – 

“It was a tough, tough fight for me, but I had to dig deep and I done it. The plan was to try and box him, keep him at range. I had to adapt to his game. Thank god it worked and I’m champion.”

RealSport scored the fight 116-112 to Ryan Burnett.

What’s next for Burnett?

With a return expected in February or March next year, Burnett has the bantamweight world at his feet as he looks to chase the big matchups at 118lbs. Jamie McDonnell holds the regular version of the WBA strap and would provide a fantastic domestic option for Burnett, whereas a tough challenge in the form of Zolani Tete would bring the WBO belt into the mix as the bantamweight marbles begin to join.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the fight, Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn signaled the intent to win as many belts as possible, with the WBC crown a next possible target – 

“We want to come back here in February or March and try and pick up the other belts in the division. You’ve got some great champs in the division, Jamie McDonnell is fighting Liborio Solis in Monaco in a few weeks, you’ve got Paul Butler watching this at home and also Zolani Tete who is a great champion. The WBC is also vacant at the minute and Ryan wants to pick them all up. For now though, he deserves a lot of credit.”

 – photography by Joe Bartlett. Check out his fantastic work here: http://joebartlettphotography.co.uk/

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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.

Ryan Burnett: Belfast’s own becomes unified bantamweight champion

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