RYAN BURNETT wept with joy as he was declared a unanimous 118-110, 119-109 and 116-112 winner over Zhanat Zhakiyanov to add the WBA bantamweight title to the IBF belt he brought into battle.
The cards simply did not reflect the action, though. The right man won yet Zhakiyanov deserved more than being judged a lopsided loser in a scrappy yet hard-fought scrap.
The early rounds were cagey and hard to score, but it was 25-year-old Burnett displaying the classier work as he hooked the onrushing Zhakiyanov before taunting him with open arms. The Kazakh ignored the bravado and had success as he closed the distance, banging the favourite’s body and using his uppercut to good effect.
By the fourth the Northern Irishman was bossing on the inside, beating Zhakiyanov to the punch and at the end of the round the 33-year-old’s trainer, Ricky Hatton, implored his charge to make room to unload effectively. The action, though, remained claustrophobic.
Burnett tried to create the distance to make his work count, a slashing left and right scored in the eighth, but Zhakiyanov bustled through the danger to offload his own punches. At the end of the session, Burnett’s trainer Adam Booth dared his fighter to deliver on pre-fight promises he could break down his opponent.
The pair continued to exchange through the 10th and 11th rounds and though Burnett’s work was the cleaner, Zhakiyanov remained busy, tagging his rival up close.
The final three minutes mirrored the previous 33, with Burnett – perhaps making life too difficult by insisting on staying close – scoring as regularly as he was getting thumped. At the final bell, Burnett celebrated but both combatants could be proud of their efforts in a gruelling and close contest.
“To be honest I thought Ryan just nicked it but those scorecards were shocking,” said Ricky Hatton afterwards.
“I had to dig deep but I done it,” said the winner. “The plan was to keep it at range but it was hard”