The Bantamweight division is current a mess thanks the WBC's slow decision to tidy up their title situation, as well as the WBA's multiple title situation. Today however we saw the weight class get tidied up a little bit as WBA “super” champion Zhanat Zhakiyanov (27-2, 18) [Жанат Ескендирулы Жакиянов] took on IBF champion Ryan Burnett (18-0, 9) in a unification bout, that helped take one of the titles from the confusing mix of belts.
The fight started in a very messy fashion with Zhakiyanov pressing the action and Burnett trying to fight off the back foot. It was a round full of holding, wrestling and grappling, though there was moments where the fighters did separate and Burnett landed some lovely eye catching shots which were the cleanest blows of the round.
The close, messy, action continued through much of the fight, with rounds 2, 3, 4 and 5 all pretty much identical to each other. They all saw Zhakiyanov pressing the action and the two fighters trading blows between in some messy yet exciting action that seemed to show Burnett was able to fight Zhakiyanov's fight and have success with it, there was however little to separate the men and neither looked capable of hurting the other.
In round 6 we saw a slight change as Burnett looked to have injured his shoulder at one point, before gritting his teeth and resuming the contest, with Zhakiyanov all over him. It was one of the best rounds for the Kazakh, despite some spirited efforts from Burnett late on, and it looked like the momentum was starting to swing n favour of Zhakiyanov. Sadly for the Kazakh the injury to Burnett wasn't as bad as it first seemed and he looked to be just fine over rounds 7 and 8.
Amazingly in round 9 Burnett changed his tactics, got on to his toes and really managed to make life easy for himself as he established some distance and boxed his fight, for the first time in the fight. It was a style that he likely would have wanted to use from the start of the fight, but couldn't due to Zhakiyanov's pressure, but was now able too with the Kazakh slowing down. It was a tactic Burnett used through rounds 10 and 11 to clearly put himself in charge of the bout, before going toe-to-toe in a thrilling 12th round. It was a perfect finish to the fight which had been incredibly tough for the fighters.
At the end of 12 rounds it seemed like a close, but clear, win for Burnett, though the judges didn't even seem to see the bout as competitive scoring it 119-109, 118-110 and 116-112 for Burnett, making it look relatively one sided when it really hadn't been.
With the IBF and WBA titles now around his waist the future looks really interesting for Burnett, and he does have a lot going for him, but this was a draining war and he will be looking to avoid those in the future if he's going to have a lengthy reign. For Zhakiyanov the loss ends his reign, but he certainly didn't shame himself, and he should remain in the title mix going forward.