Northern Ireland’s First Unification Fight: Ryan Burnett vs Zhanat Zhakiyanov

Tom Dunstan

Belfast’s new favourite son Ryan Burnett will be looking to write the next chapter in his sensational rise to the top of the bantamweight division. Not only will this be the first time that Burnett has defended his IBF crown, he will also be looking to unify the division as he takes on WBA ‘super’ champion, Zhanat Zhakiyanov.

In June, and despite only fighting in his 17th professional contest, Burnett was able to send former champion Lee Haskins to the canvas twice on his way to picking up the IBF title, although one judge scored the fight to the wrong boxer, the 25-year-old was able to leave with a unanimous points decision.

Another notable factor in this potential fairytale story, this will be the very first unification fight to be held in Burnett’s home country of Northern Ireland. Still undefeated, Burnett is trained by iconic British coach Adam Booth, the two have formed a special bond in recent years, living out of a car with his father when he began training with Booth, his coach and mentor had the young fighter come and live with him. Despite all the makings of a heartwarming tale, both Burnett and Booth will be more than aware of the challenge they will be facing come Saturday night.

In the opposite corner to Burnett, we have Zhanat Zhakiyanov somewhat of an old foe for Burnett. A fighter that has not lost since 2008, the durable and gritty Zhakiyanov is the reigning WBA ‘super’ bantamweight champion, the two should know each other well, in the early stages of Burnett’s career, the pair spent several months sparring together, come fight night tho, Burnett feels that he already has the upper hand.

I know what it’s like to share a ring with him, but he doesn’t know what it’s like to share a ring with the current Ryan Burnett. A lot has changed since we last sparred for me but not with him. It’s good to have that bit of knowledge, I know a few things about him. That can only work in my favour.

– Ryan Burnett

But, even though the Northern Irishman may feel he has the edge, his Kazakh opponent may feel that he has his own secret weapon in his corner. Zhakiyanov is trained by former British welterweight champion Ricky Hatton. The ‘Hitman’ is also a fighter who knows Burnett very well, in his first three years as a professional, Burnett was trained and managed by Hatton for his first four professional bouts, before Burnett made the decision to head South and team up with Adam Booth.

Although Hatton’s starman might be entering the contest as an ever so slight underdog, Zhakiyanov is certainly not a fighter who should be underestimated. Built in a similar mould to his legendary trainer, the 33-year-old is a tough and explosive fighter who boasts a record of 27-1 and is also coming off the back of defeating highly rated American Rau’shee Warren in February. Despite the eight-year age gap between the two fighters, Zhakiyanov’s trainer feels that the hardened veteran will be able to dampen the inevitable party atmosphere in Belfast.

Zhakiyanov’s got an extra bit of ambition and determination for this one as there’s always been that rivalry. Burnett is in a heap load of trouble once that bell goes.

– Ricky Hatton

This fight really does have all the key ingredients in the making of a historic evening. In the first ever unification fight to take place in front of his beloved Belfast supporters, can the 25-year-old novice unify the bantamweight division in only his 18th fight? Or will the relatively unknown veteran champion, trained by his opponents former mentor be able to break the hearts of every Northern Irishman across the globe?

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