Zelfa Barrett plans to use skills and boxing IQ to topple Rakhimov
Zelfa Barrett challenges for the vacant IBF junior-lightweight title in Abu Dhabi on Saturday when he takes on Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov.
Manchester’s Barrett is 28-1 with 16 stoppages while Tajikistan’s southpaw Rakhimov is 16-0-1 with 13 early wins, but Barrett feels more than ready ahead of his big chance.
“I’ve been working hard but we’re here now,” said Barrett, in the middle of fight week. “It’s the big one. Rakhimov is a good fighter, he puts a lot of pressure on and he comes forward but I believe I’ve got the beating of him.”
There’s no doubt in Barrett’s mind what the styles clash means for the fight. He sees it being a bull-matador type fight, with him using his ability and talent to take him to victory.
“Yes, basically,” the 29-year-old admitted. “He’s going to throw a lot of shots and I don’t have to go looking for him, because he will be there.”
Barrett has fought pressure fighters before, winning a narrow and controversial fight against man of the moment Kiko Martinez back in February 2021. And while Barrett’s experienced the pressure, Rakhimov will lead with his right hand. That doesn’t faze Barrett, though, he thinks all 30 of his fights have given him the grounding he has needed to be victorious on Saturday at the Ethiad Arena.
“Yes, of course,” he went on. “All of the fights have prepared me for where I am today. Every fight is a learning curve, every fight is a stepping stone. It’s all experience and now’s the time to put it all together and back it up.”
Barrett is a long way from home. Some fighters feel the pressure of having an expectant fan base cheering for them, but Zelfa doesn’t think there will be any less pressure regardless of where he faced Rakhimov.
“You know what the reality of it is?” he asked rhetorically. “A fight is a fight. There’s always a lot of mental pressure, especially going in to a world title fight because you’ve got to perform and you want to win, and to do what you have to do. But, for me, it’s the same vibe, it’s a ring isn’t it? It’s the same thing.”
And he’s refusing to get too far ahead of himself, talking about dream fights, who he might like to face if triumphant.
“Listen, I’m only focused on Rakhimov,” Barrett continued. “Then we can talk about whatever… But I’m focused on winning and picking up that belt on Saturday night.”
Barrett starts to think about the type of contest it might be once more. He doesn’t call Rakhimov one-dimensional but he’s only expecting one thing.
“Pressure,” Barrett said. “He brings a lot of pressure and he throws a lot of punches, he comes forward a lot. I’m super-fit and I believe skills pay the bills and of course I’ve got the power to knock him out but I’m not relying on that. I’m relying on skills pay the bills and [boxing] IQ.”