After capturing their respective titles earlier in 2017, both Ryan Burnett (17-0) and Zhanat Zhakiyanov (27-1) face a unification bout at bantamweight in the first defence of their straps. Becoming accustomed to fighting on the road, British-based Zhakiyanov makes his second outing in Belfast against the hometown hero Burnett, as we anticipate 12 rounds of action at 118lbs.
Ryan Burnett vs Zhanat Zhakiyanov for the unified IBF and WBA bantamweight championship
Where: The SSE Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland
When: Saturday, 21st October, 10pm UK time
TV: SKY Sports
Northern Ireland plays host to its first ever unification bout on Saturday night, as Ryan Burnett welcomes the challenge of Kazakhstan’s Zhanat Zhakiyanov to the capital city. After claiming their bantamweight straps against Lee Haskins and Rau’shee Warren respectively earlier on this year, the 118-pounders put it all on the line in what is expected to be a beautiful blend of styles.
After joining Hatton Promotions in 2011, and subsequently moving to the UK to train with “The Hitman” in 2013, Zhakiyanov has thrived as an underdog as he makes his ascent up the bantamweight rankings. With notable wins over Héctor Guzmán, Yonfrez Parejo and the aforementioned Warren within the past two years, the 33-year-old is peaking at the perfect moment as he looks to add substantial pay-cheques to his list of titles.
After climbing off the canvas twice in the opening round of his title challenge against the hometown favourite Rau’shee Warren in February, “ZZ” showed his heart, power and boxing brain as he was able to dominate the WBA champion over twelve convincing rounds.
An interesting sub-plot to Saturday’s fight is the relationship with Ryan Burnett and his former trainer Ricky Hatton. Burnett used to fight under the Hatton Promotions stable from 2012-14, and after being trained by “The Hitman” himself, left after being forced to jump ship amidst troubled times for the company. In that time, Burnett and Zhakiyanov sparred together under the tutelage of Hatton, with Hatton’s insight into the fighting style of Burnett potentially proving fruitful in the lead up to this fight.
Speaking at Thursday’s final press conference in Belfast, Burnett described what it means to fight in front of a home crowd, at such a high level –
“This is a massive night for me, I don’t want to just be a world champion, I want to be a great world champion. To have this opportunity to fight another world champion in my home city is something I’ve always wanted and I feel blessed. With every fighter you have to train differently and have different tactics. Adam Booth is the perfect man to have in your corner for that and we’ve done everything that’s needed to be done – I’m going into the ring very confident.”
Zhakiyanov (who spoke with very limited English) alluded to the sparring sessions the pair shared over five years ago, as well as describing what he thinks have been his toughest challenges to date as a professional –
“Ryan was a young pro at the time we sparred and has developed into a worthy champion. However, he needs to understand that I have also developed and travelled around the world fighting better opposition. I don’t believe that that he’s the best that I have faced so far. I’d say Karim Guerfi and Rau’shee Warren are better.”
After successfully weighing in on Friday afternoon at the Titanic Hotel in Belfast, all that is left for the pair is to fight on Saturday night in front of a packed SSE Arena. Zhakiyanov came in at 117.25lbs with Burnett weighing the slightly heavier at 117.4lbs.
Opening at 2/7 with the bookmakers, Ryan Burnett will head to the ring as a heavy favourite in-front of his home crowd; something that Zhanat Zhakiyanov is no stranger to. Thriving in the position of underdog throughout his professional career, the Kazakh has used his position as the away fighter to full effect, most notably in Ohio earlier this year in capturing his bantamweight gold.
With 18 knockouts on his record, “ZZ” has power at 118lbs which Burnett will have to negate in the early rounds as the Kazakh tries to put the IBF champion on the back foot. However, with a susceptible chin being outed in his last fight against the soft-hitting Warren, Burnett will be confident in dropping the challenger if he can land clean early in the bout.
As the slightly taller man Burnett will try to use his levers to full effect if Zhakiyanov tries to dictate the pace in the early rounds. Fighting on home soil, Burnett knows that if he can land the cleaner work in the first six rounds it may be a case of padding out the championship rounds to secure a points decision; however Zhakiyanov’s power can’t be ignored.
Despite fighting on the cusp of world championship unification, neither of these fighters can be classed as elite level, however a dominant display by either Burnett or Zhakiyanov on Saturday could lead to a golden ticket in fast-tracking to future super-fights. Zhakiyanov has shown the skill set, heart and maturity to prove a worthy contender at this level, however with Burnett’s hunger and classier work on the inside, I fully expect the Northern Irishman to come away with both bantamweight belts.
Burnett to win by a wide unanimous decision.
Paul Hyland Jnr and Stephen Ormond star in the featured undercard bout as Hyland looks to keep his unbeaten record intact at lightweight. The quirky Frenchman Renald Garrido looks to upset Tyrone McKenna in a late substitute fight at super lightweight and “Pretty Boy” Josh Kelly makes his fourth outing as a professional.
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