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Ryan Burnett v Zhanat Zhakiyanov + Undercard: Opponent Analysis

Tonight’s the night.

Ryan Burnett looks to unify world titles at the SSE Odyssey Arena in Belfast alongside a packed undercard with big fights for Irish fighters.

Below Irish-Boxing.com takes a look at the men who will be in the opposite corner tonight, how they match-up to their Irish counterparts, and what sort of fights we are in store for.

Topping the bill, of course, is Belfast bantamweight Burnett [17(9)-0]. The IBF champion attempts to unify against WBA titlist Zhanat Zhakiyanov [27(18)-1(0)] in a refreshingly good first title defence.

A great match-up, it was said in the aftermath of Burnett’s title win over Haskins that Zhakiyanov was a better suited foe for Burnett – and this may be the case – but the Kazakh brings dangerous to the table that the awkward and clever Haskins did not. A big puncher with an unlimited engine, Zhakiyanov looks set to test aspects of Burnett’s game which have gone pretty much unchecked – bar an impressively physical win over Ryan Farrag last year

Burnett goes into the bout a slight favourite, however the Antrim Road man will need to make a good start, potentially even stopping the Central Asian, in anticipation of a latter-rounds Zhakiyanov freight train.

Then there is the chief support, a glorious all-Irish lightweight battle between Paul Hyland Jr [16(6)-0] and Stephen Ormond [24(13)-4(1)]. Belfast v Dublin, youth v experience, come-forward brawler with underrated boxing skill v come-forward brawler with underrated boxing skill – it’s a guaranteed cracker of a fight.

The other Irish fighter in title action is Poleglass super featherweight James Tennyson [19(5)-2(2)] who is aiming to defend his WBA International belt and improve his #5 ranking with the organisation. The Belfast puncher faces Scotland’s Darren Traynor [14(6)-1(1)] over ten rounds in his third big fight of the year following wins over Declan Geraghty and Ryan Doyle. The Aberdeen fighter is a solid, well-schooled foe with a strong amateur background who comes into the bout with a full camp – and is a familiar foe for ‘The Assassin.’

Back at the start of last year the pair were due to box in a British featherweight final eliminator. Some managerial maneuvering instead enabled both to have a shot at the belt – with both being stopped in the fifth by Ryan Doyle, although it would be fair to say that Traynor gave a better showing against the champion from Norfolk. Since then both have moved up in weight and looked impressive, with Traynor winning the Scottish title at lightweight against Andrejs Podusovs before moving back down for this fight. An aggressive fighter, it looks set to be another shoot-out for Tennyson a-la his win over Doyle during the Summer.

Coalisland super featherweight Feargal McCrory [6(3)-0] makes his TV debut in his second successive fight on a Matchroom card. There had been hopes for McCrory to make a massive step-up to face British title challenger Troy James, but the fight with the Coventry stylist fell through. The Tyrone fighter however still faces a test in a bout that he believes will win him a Matchroom contract.

Fearless Feargal instead faces rising Welsh prospect Callum Busuttil [2(0)-0] over six rounds. The Caerphilly 21 year old turned pro this year under Jamie Arthur following a strong amateur career in the Valleys. A hungry, come-forward pressure fighter, Busuttil is the complete opposite of what McCrory has been preparing for and the Irishman will need to adjust for war.

Featuring on Facebook Live will be Tyrone McKenna [14(6)-0-1]. The Lenadoon light welter was frustrated to see his high profile fight with Tommy Coyle fall through, but will have to be on his game for his clash with French replacement Renald Garrido [19(3)-16(0)-2] – who will still be the toughest opponent of his career thus far.

While Garrido’s record may not be aesthetically pleasing, ‘Lion Heart’ has some major wins. Over the years he has taken the unbeaten records of Bradley Saunders and Olympic silver medalist Daouda Sow, and during the Summer drew with highly-rated Turk Faith Keles for the WBO European trinket. Earlier this year he was edged out by Frankie Gavin and has also knocked down Robbie Davies Jr – as well as losing a number of majority and split decisions as the ‘away’ fighter, including for the French title.

Opening the Facebook Live portion of the show, Lenadoon cruiser Tommy McCarthy [9(5)-1(0)] will take on Hungarian veteran Peter Hegyes [8(4)-16(8)] in a six rounder. His first fight in 11 months and first under trainer Ensley Bingham, the encounter is merely a reintroduction for McCarthy who is keen to return to domestic title contention almost immediately.

38 year old Hegyes once fought current IBF champion Murat Gassiev, being knocked out in the second round and went the six-round distance with Italian champion and EU title challenger Leonardo Damia Bruzzese in his last outing in June – although has also been stopped in the third by the same opponent. With the frustrations of 11 months out, don’t expect this fight to last the distance.

Joe Fitzpatrick [7(4)-0] returns on the card in his first fight since February The Divis lightweight has been matched with Zambian light welter Mwenya Chisanga [1(0)-1(1)]. The awkward African debuted with a loss back in 2015 and returned to the sport last month, upsetting Jonny Phillips over four. Considering ring rust and the style of his opponent, it could be a tricky one to look well in for Fitzpatrick and a big performance here would be a nice mini-statement

Taking a temporary step down from six rounders to four to enable a spot on the high profile card, Rio Olympian Davey Oliver Joyce [3(2)-0] has been pitted against experienced English journeyman Andy Harris [3(0)-52(10)-1].

Harris has fought all manner of prospects over the years – even once upsetting recent British lightweight champion Robbie Barrett – however he should be no match for the Mullingar super featherweight. Durable, but not notably so, Harris will have trouble dealing with the attacking flair of ‘The Punisher.’ Considering the step down in rounds and the step down in opposition – as well as Joyce’s desire to be moved quickly – this is the most disappointing match-up on the bill.

Opening the show tonight will be Gary Cully [1(1)-0]. The Kildare lightweight will box Josh Thorne [1(0)-10(2)-2] in a four and, while the record might not suggest so, it’s a step up for Cully.

Over the past year the game Londoner has held 6-0 prospect Charlie Williams to a draw, as well as Nathanael Wilson, son of Chris Eubank. In his most recent fight, Thorne retired at the end of the first against Rio Olympian Joe Cordina, and Cully is to inflict a similar fate on the journeyman.

Two Team GB Olympians will also appear on the card in step ups. Welterweight Josh Kelly [3(2)-0] boxes Mexican light middleweight champion Jose Luis Zuniga [13(7)-2(0)-1] over eight, while light middleweight Anthony Fowler [3(3)-0] will take on notably tough Hungarian Laszlo Fazekas [31(18)-27(3)-1] over six. London super middleweight Craig Richards [9(3)-0] rounds off the card and fights in a four rounder against Norbert Szekeres [18(9)-61(16)-3]


Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie