Ryan Burnett has tonight unified the WBA and IBF bantamweight world championships after scoring a unanimous decision victory over Zhanat Zhakiyanov by the scores of 118-110, 119-109 and 116-112 at the SSE Arena in his hometown of Belfast.
Zhanat Zhakiyanov was quick out of the gate and looked to dictate the tempo of the fight from the first bell, he looked to impose his physicality and get on top of Burnett and force him toward the ropes where as Burnett started off trying to use his ring generalship and movement to lull Zhakiyanov into traps where he could make him pay with big counter punches in the fight’s opening stanza.
Burnett however wasn’t fazed by the pressure and seemed intent on standing his ground and meeting Zhakiyanov head on from the second round onward; this made for what would become a very gritty affair involving a lot of wrestling, tying up and grappling as a lot of the action was at close range. Referee, Howard Foster on several occasions had to warn both combatants about the use of their heads on the inside.
Much of the early rounds of the fight involved a lot of swing rounds where the action could have seen an argument made for both men taking the round following the 2nd round. The pressure continued to tell for Zhakiyanov who continued to edge the early rounds as he seemed to be outworking the hometown favorite in close quarters but as the fight approached the middle rounds. Burnett began adjusting to his opponents brawling tactics and started to find his range and utilize the fact he had the quicker hands as he looked to score with a series of combinations, where he began to throw short, snapping wide punches most notably his hook and uppercut.
Zhakiyanov was still an ever present aggressor who was game to meet Burnett head on at every turn, which made for a very competitive ebb and flow to the action.
However as Burnett increasingly started to find more and more distance between him and Zhakiyanov, he started to take over the fight by dominating the exchanges. Burnett initiated and ended much of the action and the blows seemed to be beginning to take a toll on his older foe, Burnett’s crisp left hook to the body contributing towards Zhakiyanov notably tiring down the stretch of the fight.
Burnett then began to play to his home crowd and oozed class and conveyed this confidence to the crowd as he began to score repeatedly with shots thrown from the waist while also landing his signature uppercut at will.
Burnett attempted to step on the gas to try and seek out a late stoppage as he looked to exploit the fact, youth and energy was on his side. However, it just wasn’t to be as each blow Burnett sent toward Zhakiyanov was dismissed with a steely faced resolve as he remained resilient to the final bell.