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.