This coming Saturday we find out who will be the fourth of the World Boxing Super Series Bantamweight Semi-Finalists, as unbeaten Northern Irish fighter Ryan Burnett (19-0, 9) takes on Filipino icon Nonito Donaire (38-5, 24) in the final bout of the quarter final stage. Not only is the bout a WBSS bout, to decide who faces Zolani Tete in the next round of the competition, but it will also see Burnett defending his WBA "Super" Bantamweight title, in what will be his second defense of the title.
Of the two fighters Donaire is the more well known, and in fact he is one of the few lower weight fighters who has made a mark across the globe. He's well known in his native Philippines, he's fought much of his career in North America, often fighting Latin Americans and has also managed one to fight in Europe, losing to the popular Carl Frampton last time out. Whilst he is very well known he is unfortunately a faded star, and he actually turns 36 in just a few weeks time. He's not a young 36 either, having been a professional since 2001 and fighting at world level pretty consistently since his 2007 upset win over Vic Darchinyan. Donaire has also been matched against a veritable who's who from Flyweight to Featherweight, sharing the ring with the likes of Darchinyan, Moruti Mthalane, Hernan Marquez, Fenando Montiel, Omar Andres Narvaez, Toshiaki Nishioka, Jorge Arce, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Nicholas Walters and Carl Frampton, just to name a few. His career has seen him rise from a fresh faced young Flyweight champion to a Featherweight champion as a veteran.
In the ring Donaire is a fighter who has been blessed with brutal power, a good ring IQ and solid boxing fundamentals. Sadly in his prime he wasn't the most active and often seemed to be the type of fighter who looked to land the perfect punch, even when he moved up in weight his power was devastating, though his activity never really impressed and at times he could be made to look very predictable by defensively minded fighters, with the older, smaller Narvaez making him look 1 paced and Rigondeaux making him look clumsy. Now, in his mid 30's, he's lost some speed, his mobility isn't what it once was and with his low work rate doesn't allow him to chip away at opponents. He also has a huge question mark over his ability to safely make Bantamweight, and what he will have left in him when he gets in the ring. That's a major issue given he hasn't made the weight in over 7 years!
At 26 years old Burnett is one of the youngest fighters in the Bantamweight WBSS and is also one of the more accomplished from the young bunch, having won the IBF title in June 2017 and unifying it with the WBA "Super" title just a few months later. Sadly mandatory obligations for the WBA and IBF saw him vacating the IBF title, which is now held by fellow WBSS competitor Emmanuel Rodriguez. Not only is he an accomplished fighter but Burnett is a former amateur standout who has a fantastic boxing brain, a good engine and a brilliant awareness in the ring. He's slippery, awkward, sharp and a great mover. Sadly however Burnett does lack power and has gone the distance in his last 8 bouts, whilst showing little killer instinct and no real interest in hunting a stoppage. One wonders whether he has that extra gear and spitefulness that he'll need to win the WBSS, or whether he's simply too nice and lacks the teeth to get past the likes of Naoya Inoue and Zolani Tete. Despite the criticism few can doubt his ability and wins over the likes of Jason Booth, Lee Haskins, Zhant Zhakiyanov and Yonfrez Parejo really do prove that.
The key for the champion here is to out manoeuvre, the Filipino veteran. Burnett has the speed to make this look very easy, as long as he can avoid the power of the Filipino. Donaire will however be dangerous through out the bout, and if the Filipino has made weight without harming himself too much that power will be as devastating as ever, if he can land a perfect counter. Burnett is the naturally smaller man, giving away notable height and reach to the Filipino, but his edge in speed, activity and youth should be enough for him to take home the win, and retain his title whilst moving on to the next round of the WBSS.
We'd love to see one more great performance from Donaire, who has been a key figure in the lower weights for a decade. The reality however is that his great career is coming to an end, and although he might have one great performance in him we don't think that'll come here against a man who could make the Filipino look very old if he wishes. Donaire's toughness should keep him in the bout, and his power will always make him dangerous, but we see him losing a very lopsided decision to the baby faced Burnett.
Unification bouts are rare in boxing, though thankfully their rareness comes with the feeling that every one of them that we do get is that little bit special. That's arguably the case this coming Saturday as the WBA and IBF Bantamweight titles get unified in Belfast. Going into that bout as champions will be Kazakh brawler Zhanat Zhakiyanov (27-1, 18) and Northern Irish slickster Ryan Burnett (17-0, 9), with Zhakiyanov entering as the WBA champion and Burnett at the IBF king.
Aged 33, and soon to be 34, the Kazakh is really at the point in his career where a loss could well be the end of his career, at least at the top level. That's ignoring the fact that he has actually only just arrived on the world stage, winning his WBA title last time out in a split decision win over Rau-shee Warren in the US. Had the decision gone against him, there's a good chance that Zhakiyanov would have joined the “who needs him?” club and not been able to get a second shot at a world title.
Amazingly for Zhakiyanov his reign was rather lucky, and in his win he was dropped twice, in the opening round by Warren. A smarter fighter than Warren would have jumped on Zhakiyanov in round 2 and closed the show, but the American took his foot off the gas and let the Kazakh regroup, before he out hustled and out-worked the American to earn the decision. That bout proved that Zhakiyanov can over-come real adversity but also showed his limitations and it was clear that he really was a fighter with only one plan, and that pressure.
Although a pressure fighter at heart Zhakiyanov does have very solid power, as shown back in 2014 with his KO of the Year contender against Karim Guerfi. Sadly though he's slow of foot and his punches are certainly not the most technically correct or the fastest. As a results he can be out boxed.
Whilst Zahkiyanov is a pressure fighter Burnett is a pure boxer, and a very talented, slick one at that. He can box on the front foot, or the back foot, and although he's not the most aggressive or exciting of fighters he is one of those natural talents who looks so composed and at ease in the ring that boxing looks second nature to him. He moves wonderfully around the ring and controls distance brilliantly, especially on the back foot where his boxing brain really does shine. Although he can fight on the front foot he does look a lot more effective on the back foot.
Burnett has long been championed as a star for British boxing and at times has shown incredible skills. Whilst those skills are impressive he has also shown a lot of frustrating traits. He's note more than 2 years removed from his last stoppage and his lack of killer instinct has been really annoying, especially given that he has dropped a number of fighters but never gone for the kill, instead racking up unnecessary rounds and potentially boring fans, when he should be using those skills to shine.
Whilst Burnett is incredibly frustrating for fans he's also a nightmare to face, and stylistically Zhankiyanov is made to order. The pressure of the Kazakh will allow Burnett to tee-off on him and make him look stupid. There is a chance that Zhakiyanov will have some moments but the reality is that the movement of Burnett will simply be too much for him, and the sharp shots will take their toll. It's up to Burnett as to whether he'll want to up the pace and seek a stoppage late,but it's hard to see anything but a win for the Northern Irishman.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.