Ryan Burnett outpoints Zhanat Zhakiyanov, unifies two titles at 118 pounds
It is party time in Belfast.
In the first ever unification fight to be held in Northern Ireland, local hero Ryan Burnett added the WBA bantamweight title to his IBF strap by scoring a 12-round unanimous decision over Zhanat Zhakiyanov at the SSE Arena on Saturday. The official scores were 119-109, 118-110 and 117-112.
Burnett, who was rated No. 5 by THE RING coming in, was understandably emotional following a terrific victory. Despite the one-sided scoring, this was a hotly contested fight between two men who should be applauded for taking each other on immediately after securing world titles.
“He was a tough fight for me, but I had to dig deep and I done it,” said Burnett when interviewed by Sky Sports in the U.K. “The plan was to box him and keep it at range. He’s strong and he kept coming forward. I had to adapt to his game and be cute.”
After a messy opening round the pattern was quickly established. Burnett (18-0, 9 knockouts) used his feet and head movement to find room to counter. Zhakiyanov, who was rated No. 3 by THE RING, bulled his way forward and tried to close the gap without paying the price.
By the fourth round, Burnett was having a field day. The home fighter’s jab worked wonders and set up a withering body attack, although none of his artillery threatened to slow the visitor down.
Burnett appeared to sustain an injury around his collar bone and shoulder area after missing awkwardly with a left uppercut in the sixth. The incident lit a fire under Zhakiyanov who scored effectively to head and body. Burnett appeared distracted but soon recovered.
As the rounds passed, Burnett began to pull away. When the Belfast man unloaded heavy shots, Zhakiyanov got into the nasty habit of watching without returning fire. The shots were eye-catching and the sessions became easier to score.
The Kazakhstan native was always competitive, however, and it was a tough night for winner and loser.
It has been an incredible 12 months for Burnett. After claiming the British title last October, he was thrust into a world title fight with the vastly more experienced Lee Haskins. Burnett prevailed in style and won almost every round. Tonight, he made history on home soil.
Zhakiyanov (27-2, 18 KOs) defeated Rau’shee Warren by 12-round majority decision in February to win the IBF belt. He will be a handful for any 118-pounder, although Burnett’s ability to improvise exposed his limitations.
Tom Gray is a UK Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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