This Saturday IBF Bantamweight World Champion Ryan Burnett will be part of history when he takes on WBA Super World Bantamweight champion Zhanat Zhakiyanov at the SSE Arena, in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
For the first time ever Northern Ireland hosts a unification title fight!
Belfast native Ryan Burnett gets stuck into a dangerous fight against Zhakiyanov - the Bantamweight GGG - I swear, sometimes I think these guys are grown out of test tube! Some secret Weapon X program from Marvel comics that cranks out Eastern European and former Soviet bloc fighting machines tough as old boots.
Burnett could have made a showcase defense of his title before his home crowd. Or he could have wagered that the weaker champion among the current holders was WBO champion Zolani Tete and tried to unify with him. That said, the IBF is notoriously strict in enforcing mandatory defenses (hence the head scratching fight booked between AJ & Pulev). So it would have been more likely perhaps to see Burnett in the ring with one of the challengers selected by the IBF - Paul Butler perhaps? Might have sold, at least in the UK...
Instead, Burnett elected to make his first defense an attempt at unifying with the tough and durable WBA Super Champion Kazakh.
Zhakiyanov is 33 years old and just celebrated his 10th year as a pro this past August. He’s got an outstanding record of 27W-1L (18KO). The loan loss coming against Sakhib Usarov The Golden Tajik. Usarov was 9-0 at the time while Zhakiyanov was only in his sixth fight. The bout took place in Russia, against a Russian and Zhakiyanov would lose by unanimous decision. For Usarov’s part he remains undefeated at 22-0.
Interestingly Zhakiyanov has fought twice before in the UK with one of those bouts in Belfast specifically. In August 2011 Zhakiyanov stopped Anwar Alfadil in round 5 of a scheduled 6 round bout. It was Zhakiyanov’s 16th fight, while Alfadil was 1W-15L at the time and as of this writing his record stands at 2W-69L-5D.
Zhakiyanov picked up a TKO win in round four in his 21st bout down Ormeau, Avenue in Belfast at the Holiday Inn in June 2013 against Michael Escobar who carried a record of just 7W-8L at the time and retired with a record of 7W-13L.
Earlier I made reference to Zhanat Zhakiyanov being the Bantamweight GGG - why?
Aside from the geographic similarities and some stylistic similarities (heavy on the front foot, good stalking pressure; power) at 33 Zhakiyanov is still little more than prospect. He’s a bit of an unknown quantity, like GGG, who flew under the radar of the casual boxing fan for years and was doubted by many hardcore fans for just as long due to a (relatively) weak resume. Now in his mid 30s GGG is getting the big fights as he did against Canelo this past September and even with the accumulation of mileage seems to be proving those doubters wrong.
Zhakiyanov’s biggest win to date was a split decision win over Rau’shee Warren back in February giving Zhakiyanov this WBA title.
Could a decisive win against a promising young talent like Burnett be a coming out party for Zhakiyanov?
Ryan Burnett on the surface is the antithesis of the Kazakh hard man. An easy smile glides over the baby face of Burnett as smoothly as the young prospect glides in the ring. Burnett had a more conventional path through to world class level as an accomplished amateur.
Burnett was an under 21 Irish National Champion in 2009. He took a Silver medal at the Youth Olympics in 2010 and when he went back to the Irish nationals in 2011 lost to future Olympian Michael Conlan.
Burnett has been a pro for a little more than four years and under the guidance of promoter Eddie Hearn and the tutelage of renowned trainer Adam Booth, Burnett’s path to World Title level seemed pre ordained.
Nevertheless, Burnett too is still just a prospect with a belt. His biggest win, like Zhakiyanov’s was his last that awarded him the IBF belt beating the grisly veteran Lee Haskins from pillar to post for 12 rounds.
Again, Burnett will be the younger man in the ring (by eight years) against Zhakiyanov and at first blush one would think perhaps Booth, Hearn and company were a bit shrewd in the their matchup with Zhakiyanov.
No question the speed advantage will go to Burnett, the patented “Booth Style” ...lead hand low inviting a reckless invasion ... has left an indelible mark on Burnett and was able to land the right hand lead all night against Haskins.
He might do against Zhakiyanov as well, however with a KO percentage just north of 50% does he have enough power to dissuade the rugged Kazakh from wading in. Zhakiyanov has power in both hands.
It can’t be forgotten that Zhakiyanov’s trainer is also a familiar name to British fight fans and those around the world - The Hitman, Ricky Hatton has gotten his charge into War Ready shape and his influence can be plainly seen in Zhakiyanov’s aggressive pressure style.
A true clash of styles and philosophies… Burnett’s youth, quickness and guile with the cerebral general Adam Booth in his corner vs. Zhakiyanov’s barely controlled aggression seconded by one of the best and most exciting british fighters of the last 30 years.
Needless to say Burnett will have to move and box, if he does so he should cruise to a unanimous decision victory.
The fans of the SSE Arena and Belfast generally will be jubilant as they celebrate the first ever title unification in their country's history and they will celebrate that victory collectively with one of their own!