By John J. Raspanti
In front of a packed house at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Ireland, IBF champion Ryan Burnett added the WBA belt to his collection by winning a grueling 12-round unanimous decision over Zhanat Zhakiyanov Saturday night.
The scores were 118-110, 119-109 and 116-112 for Burnett
Maxboxing scored the contest 116-112 for Burnett.
Local hero Burnett, 25, wanted to box. Zhakiyanov, eight years older, likes to slug. His tactic was to smoother the quicker Burnett, and bounce right hands off his noggin. Burnett, would fire a punch, move away and fire again.
Zhakiyanov, who captured the WBA strap by defeating Rau’shee Warren eight months ago, appeared to have an edge in the early going. His phone booth tactics were working pretty well. Burnett started to do a little better in round four. He was getting off first and utilizing his quicker hands. Zhakiayanov, the harder puncher, pressed forward.
It was a mystery to this writer why Burnett wasn’t moving more. In round five, he did just that. He worked off his back foot and confused Zhakiyanov. His jab was finding Zhakiyanov consistently. Burnett, making the first defense of his IBF strap, banged home a combination.
Zhakiyanov’s trainer, former two-time champion Ricky Hatton, extoled his fighter to throw an uppercut. Zhakiayanov, who was born in Kazakhstan, finally did as he was told in round six, landing a clean shot that snapped Burnett’s head back.
The close ebb and flow of the contest continued in round seven, but Burnett had found his rhythm by round eight. He connected with a sweeping right that knocked Zhakiyanov back a step.
The young champion went to the body well in rounds nine and ten. He also connected with a sharp combination. Seconds later, a left hook followed. Zhakiyanov absorbed the blows without pause, but Burnett was in control.
Zhakiyanov came out with more purpose in round 11, but Burnett was beating him at his own game. The confident Burnett switched to southpaw. He popped Zhakiyaov with jabs. Near the end of the stanza, Burnett pushed forward and unloaded.
Burnett, though the busier fighter in the last few rounds, appeared the fresher of the two in the last round. He let fly with shots. Zhakiyanov stood his ground and fired back. Burnett connected with two jabs and a right hand at the bell.
“He’s a tough, tough vet, but I done it,” said a smiling Burnett.