by Cliff Rold
It’s an exciting time in the bantamweight division.
It would be more exciting if Luis Nery hadn’t failed a PED test after his seemingly impressive victory over the long reigning king of the class, Shinsuke Yamanaka. That outcome casts a pall but doesn’t change that things are happening at 118 lbs.
The deep crop of talent at 115 lbs. promises to send a name or two up the scale sooner than later. After Saturday’s result, Ryan Burnett unifying two major titles in a gritty battle with Zhanat Zhakiyanov, the Irishman is in a perfect position to cash in when they arrive.
Let’s go to the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Burnett B+; Zhakiyanov B-/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Burnett B; Zhakiyanov B/Post Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Burnett B; Zhakiyanov B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Burnett B+; Zhakiyanov A/Post: B+; B+
In evaluating the fight in the pre-fight report card, the style match was highlighted in questioning what Burnett might do tactically. He had shown in previous fights he was willing to tie up and frustrate along with whipping his quick hands into action. The thinking was Zhakiyanov would do enough to the body and head over the course of the fight to multiply the punishment to his favor.
Burnett showed his development was more than ready for deeper waters and the attack of Zhakiyanov. While he did tie up, and often, it wasn’t the sort of clinching that stops a fight breaking out or makes an event tedious. It was physical grappling, an irony with a master of such tactics in Ricky Hatton in the corner of Zhakiyanov.
That didn’t make it pretty.
It just didn’t take the fight into an unwatchable place.
It also worked out well for Burnett. He went to the body well and by the last third of the fight, the time when one would think Zhakiyanov would have needed to surge, Burnett appeared the fresher of the two. It was a good, competitive fight but Burnett was first a little more often, more active, and the younger man was the winner in the end.
For Zhakiyanov, it showed what a shame it is it’s taken the 33-year old so long to get to bigger stages. He’s a fun television fighter who doesn’t get hit as often as it looks like and never stops coming. Hopefully he can get another meaningful fight or two before his age really catches up.
Burnett joins countryman Carl Frampton as a legitimate draw in Belfast and one of the rare unified bantamweight titlists (IBF and now WBA) since title proliferation exploded. Can he collect more straps while things sort out in the division below? Or will the 25-year old Burnett, who seemed to be pushing the seams of his class already, be headed to the Jr. featherweight division first?
If it’s more unification, a showdown with WBO titlist Zolani Tete would be very interesting stuff. Burnett could also take on the WBA’s sub titlist, Jamie McDonnell, in what could be a big fight in the UK.
The kid has options. Winners usually do.
Report Card and Staff Picks 2017: 41-17
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]