The IBF titlist added the WBA belt of Zhanat Zhakiyanov to his collection following a fire-fight in Belfast.
The fight headlined a massive Matchroom bill at the SSE Odyssey Arena, live on Sky Sports, and Burnett ensured that the thousands in attendance went home happy, emerging victorious after twelve exciting, if scrappy, rounds.
An interesting aspect in the build-up was the fact that Burnett and Zhakiyanov were former team-mates under Hatton and had sparred together. Indeed it even emerged that a teenage Burnett had dropped the Kazakh in these sessions.
Zhakiyanov, the perennial away fighter, claimed his world title by traveling to Ohio to upset home favourite and triple U.S. Olympian Rau’shee Warren, recovering from two early knockdowns to overwhelm the slickster down the stretch. He again was all action tonight but was met head on by Burnett who muscled and boxed his way to victory.
Burnett had made his Belfast homecoming during the Summer when he wrestled the IBF belt away from champion Lee Haskins, dominating the Bristolian over twelve. Since then his star has risen, and a larger and louder crowd were present tonight to see the local lad become just the second ever Irish fighter – after Carl Frampton – to unify world titles.
Zhakiyanov began aggressively in a messy first round which saw referee Howard Foster twice warn the boxer. Zhakiyanov would drive Burnett to the ropes early, and outwork him in the clinch before the home favourite enjoyed some success with wide counters in the closing moments.
The Kazakh visitor landed some huge shots on Burnett in the opening exchanges of the second, but the Belfast man would weather the worst of the storm and even waved Zhakiyanov in – who landed another huge shot on the bell.
Burnett enjoyed greater success in the third round, establishing his range well to stem the tide.
There was similar outside work in the fourth from Burnett who then looked to trade in the clich in the latter parts of the round, coping well.
Burnett was extremely impressive in the opening stages of the fifth, landing his sharp jab well. When he was eventually cornered, the Antrim Road man let off a blistering combo that forced Zhakiyanov back – only for Burnett to smile and usher the Asian back in and they cotinued to trade for the remainder of the round.
Zhakiyanov came back well in the sixth, imposing his physical strength on Burnett well.
This continued into the early stages of the seventh round, but Burnett quickly regained a foothold and some semblance of control.
Zhakiyanov, as ever, bulled forward in a close eighth stanza before Burnett roared back with some classy shots in the ninth as he re-established his range in what, at that stage, was his best round of the fight.
Burnett’s impressive range was again prominent in the tenth round, and a left hook on the bell jolted Zhakiyanov.
While it would be incorrect to say Burnett had beaten the fight out of Zhakiyanov as we entered the championship round, he certainly had wrestled himself on top and was in control as the pair continued to trade shots.
Perhaps feeling he needed a knockout, Zhakiyanov came out firing in the final round. Burnett responded to the Kazakh thunder, trading with the relentless visitor and at one stage catching him square as they traded to the bell.
Going to the cards, Burnett was confirmed the winner and unified champion on wide scorelines of 119-109, 118-110, and 116-112.
Irish-Boxing.com scored the fight 115-113 in Burnett’s favour
What’s next for Burnett is unknown. HBO execs were in attendance tonight and fights in America have been mooted by promoter Eddie Hearn.
He is due to make a mandatory defence of his IBF title and Emmanuel Rodriguez was the man who seemed the most likely opponent, but it is believed the Puerto Rican may be exploring other avenues. A mandatory defence could be circumnavigated in certain circumstances – should the hungry fighter attempt unify again or jumps up in weight.
What is sure though is one thing – at 25 years old and after just 18 fights, Ryan Burnett is one of our greatest ever.
Photo Credit: Ricardo Guglielminotti – The Fighting Irish (@ThefIrish)