Ryan Burnett beats ZZ to move to the top after victory in world title unification thriller

Ryan Burnett celebrates with his belts at the SSE Arena on Saturday evening
Andy Watters at the SSE Arena

LATE last week Ryan Burnett was asked where he stood in the current Irish boxing rankings. Modestly, he dodged the question, but he answered it emphatically on Saturday night with a display of courage, ring-craft and power that has elevated him to Ireland’s number one as a unified world champion.

The north Belfast bantamweight leapfrogged Carl Frampton and delighted the raucous crowd at an uncompromising SSE fight night that saw him and several others require medical attention after their contests.

To win the IBF title Burnett had out-tricked the bantamweight division’s trickster and on Saturday he proved he was harder than the hardman, Kazakhstan’s Zhanat Zhakiyanov who met him in the centre of the ring at the first bell and barely took a backward step over 12 gruelling rounds.

The two world champions had put their titles on the line and they stood, heads together, and traded blows in an absorbing contest. There was a lot of clinching and grappling throughout a no-holds-barred rumble, but it was Burnett’s extra quality and versatility that allowed him to shade tight rounds.

He out-hustled ‘ZZ’ in a high-paced war of attrition and added the WBA ‘super’ belt to his own after forcing a deserved unanimous decision win.

With two belts in his possession, he intends to go after the other champions in the division now and WBA ‘regular’ champion Jamie McDonnell, who defends his title against Liborio Solis on November 4, could be his next target.

Burnett was taken to hospital for a precautionary check-up immediately after the fight but was back at Belfast’s Hilton Hotel in the early hours of Sunday morning to celebrate his history-making win in Ireland’s first ever unification title battle with friends and family.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the former Holy Family ABC star is that you feel his journey is only beginning. There is so much more to come from him and he is capable of winning with much more stylish and flair.

But Saturday night was all about toughing it out against a man who came to win and refused to give an inch from the first bell to the last.

“I boxed Haskins who is one of the trickiest fighters in the division and now I’ve boxed the hardest hitter in the division and I’ve proved a point,” said Burnett, who took his record to 18-0 with the victory.

He added: “It was a tough, tough fight for me and I had to dig deep and I did it,” he said.

“The plan was to try to box him and keep it at range but he’s that strong he kept coming forward and I had to adapt to his game. I had to be cute and the shots I was throwing I had to block and make sure they weren’t getting through.

“Thank God it worked and I’m champ now.”

After the final bell, Burnett was warmly embraced by his former coach Ricky Hatton who had been an animated presence in Zhakiyanov’s corner throughout the contest. Burnett split with Hatton two years ago, swapping Manchester for London and spending a period living in his car before he was taken on by current trainer Adam Booth.

Booth’s gameplan demanded a lot from Burnett and the 25-year-old delivered. Afterwards Hatton said he had no complaints with the verdict although he did question the margins on two of the scorecards – two judges went 118-110 and 119-109 for Burnett while the third had it 116-112.

“I thought Ryan just nicked it, but the scorecards were shocking,” he said.

“Even the hardest of Belfast fight fans would say that was harsh on Zhanat, but I think the better man won in the end.”

Matchroom Promotions boss Eddie Hearn predicts a return to Belfast in early spring next year with Burnett continuing his series of top quality match-ups against another of the bantamweight division’s belt holders.

“He has built a fortress here in Belfast – unified champion of the world Ryan Burnett,” said Hearn.

“He has done remarkably well and Adam Booth deserves a lot of credit because the gameplan was outstanding. We’re going to come back here in February or March and try and pick up the other belts in the division.

“You’ve got some great champions, you’ve got Jamie McDonnell who defends his belt in a couple of weeks, you’ve got Paul Butler who’ll be watching this at home and you’ve got Zolani Tete as well. Ryan wants to pick them all up.”



Round One: A chorus of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ rings out as the fighters go toe-to-toe in the opener. ZZ, reputed to be a slow starter, rips up that script and gets straight down to business, bull-dozing forward and doing enough to win the round. ZZ 10-9

Round Two: Burnett’s round. Hits ZZ with some sweet shots – a left-hook to the body paves the way for a right hook to the head and he fires a couple straight through the Kazakh’s guard. RB 10-9

Round Three: Very little in the round. Burnett looks to jab and keep the dangerous hitter at range. His extra quality shades it but he’s warned for using his head by referee Howard Foster. RB 10-9

Round four: Another action-packed stanza goes back and forth. ZZ smothers Burnett and the pair of them lock horns in the centre of the ring using inches of space to whip in shots to head and body. ZZ’s strength and determination edges it. ZZ 10-9

Round five: “Shot,” roars Ricky Hatton as ZZ steps to the side and rips an uppercut through Burnett’s guard. His man has success but Burnett takes a step back out of a clinch and smashes a left hook off his chin and follows it up to win another round. RB 10-9

Round six: Hatton animated again. Burnett warned for using the head again and it seemed the unsettle him. ZZ bosses this round. ZZ 10-9

Round seven: Burnett taps the sign of the cross out on his chest as the bell goes and he plants his feet and lets his hands go as ZZ stalks forward. The Kazakh pressure fighter is all over him like a cheap suit and does enough to win another round. ZZ 10-9

Round eight: ‘BOOM, I gotta Glock in my ’Rari’ blasts out around the arena and there are more fireworks in the ring as an engrossing contest continues to unfold. Everything is at close quarters. Heads together and elbows tucked in. Neither fighter can get two shots off in-a-row before the other replies. RB 10-9

Round nine: Burnett snaps ZZ’s head back with an uppercut and follows it up as the Kazakh champion covers up. The home favourite keeps the pressure up until the bell. RB 10-9

Round 10: ZZ is superbly conditioned and fit and keeps on coming. Swings in shots from wide and Burnett blocks or dips out of the way. A late flourish nicks the round for him. RB 10-9

Round 11: Hatton roaring “1-6” as ZZ looks for the shot that could turn the fight his way. Again there isn’t much to choose between them but his workrate edges another close round. ZZ 10-9

Round 12: The fight ended like it had started – in a claustrophobic war. Burnett took everything ZZ had to throw at him and came back with a little bit extra. RB 10-9

Score: Burnett 115 Zhakiyanov 113


FIVE rounds into his European lightweight title rumble with Stephen Ormond and Paul Hyland jnr looked ready to step up to another level.

After a bright opening, the west Belfast fighter had the experienced Dubliner on the seat of his pants in the third round when he beat him to the punch and caught him with a forceful right hook.

But Ormond survived the round, recovered well and began to dominate with his signature left hook as Hyland faded. He might well have got the decision on another night.

In the end ‘Hylo’ came through on split decision and he will have learned some valuable lessons from what has to go down as a close shave. This was a real test of his engine after he had dominated early on displaying some slick skills, peppering ‘the Rock’ from range and then throwing a shot and slipping away to stay out of trouble.

But from the midway point it was Ormond’s extra experience and energy that held sway, particularly at close quarters. Hyland seemed to run out of steam and was over-reliant on single shots, but he felt his boxing had done the job for him and the judges agreed.

“My boxing was the thing that won me it,” he said.

“I fought his fight sometimes inside and he is strong. I tried to slug it out with him but when I was boxing he didn’t really catch me much. I did get dragged into his style but I think my boxing won me it.

“You couldn’t have done 12 rounds with a tougher guy. He’s always in your face the whole way.”

Hyland, now 17-0, is open to a rematch with Ormond who showed impressive reserves of punching ability. Aged 34, his punches may have lost a little of their zip but he remains a dangerous opponent.

“He deserves a rematch,” said Hyland, adding: “I’ll have a talk with my team and see what’s next but whatever it best for me I’ll take it.”

Meanwhile, there were grumblings of “robbed” from the Ormond camp and the Dubliner felt he had done enough to win the fight.

“After the knockdown I thought I took over the fight and I thought I clearly won the fight but these things happen,” he said.

“I get stronger as the fight goes on and that’s why I thought I won but no disrespect to Paul, it was a great fight.”

The judges had it 117-110 and 114-113 to Hyland with the other ruling 115-112 in Ormond’s favour.


JAMES Tennyson could be on the verge of a shot at the WBA super-featherweight title after his spectacular knockout win over Darren Traynor.

The hammer-and-tongs duel between Tennyson and Aberdeen native Traynor was the fight of the night at the SSE Arena over three action-packed rounds.

There wasn’t much to separate the pair in the opener but Traynor was dropped by a freighttrain straight left early in the second. Tennyson jumped on him, looking for an early stoppage, but was nailed by a left hook counter as he swung wildly at the Scot.

Traynor was still game in the third but lacked the power to match Tennyson who began to dominate. A left-hook to the body, set up an upper cut that had him in trouble and Traynor was hurt by another left-hook and dropped his guard long enough for Tennyson to add the coup de grace with a booming straight right hand that caught him flush on the chin.

“It was brilliant, it was good, I enjoyed it,” said the Belfast Kronk fighter, who had Tony Dunlop in his corner, afterwards.

“He came to win, he came out swinging and trying to put the pressure on but I came through with my power and I landed some lovely shots. I was hurting him.

“I fell asleep a wee bit and he caught me cold. It was a good shot and I felt it but I recovered well and produced the goods. I want to be out there putting on a good performance and giving the fans what they want to see.”

He added: “The WBA has just become vacant and I’m number five in the rankings so if my shot comes I’ll snatch it up.”

Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn agrees and predicts that Tennyson and his team have some big decisions to make.

“The next natural step would be British and Commonwealth titles but he has found his way inside the top five with the WBA and the belt became vacant,” he said.

“It’s time to move on and look at trying to challenge for a final eliminator or something relating to the WBA title. You have some great fighters in Belfast but you need good fighters coming through and James Tennyson is a great example of that new product coming out of Belfast and Northern Ireland.

“Stranger things have happened in boxing – you might see James get a shot at the real thing next but he has a choice to make with Mark Dunlop (his manager). Is it British or European titles or moving to a shot at the WBA?”



Light-welterweight: Tyrone McKenna bt Renald Garrido pts 96-94

A REAL test for ‘The Mighty Celt’ who was pushed all the way by Frenchman Garrido. ‘Le Lion’ had been in in some good company and it showed.

McKenna had some good moments, particularly when he moved and got his shots off on the back foot but Garrido bossed some of the exchanges at close quarters. Referee Marcus McDonnell had McKenna a 96-94 winner over the 10 rounds.

Cruiserweight: Tommy McCarthy bt Peter Hegyes KO1

AFTER a spell on the sidelines, McCarthy wasted no time winning his comeback fight. He had Hegyes down early on with a booming right hand then pinned him to the ropes and the referee stepped in.

Lightweight: Joe Fitzpatrick bt Mwenya Chisanga TKO6

‘THE Dragon’ sprang into action in the sixth to stop Zambian Chisanga who had been hanging in gamely. Fitzpatrick moved to 8-0 with the win.

Super-Featherweight: Feargal McCrory v Callum Busuttil pts

NEVER easy coming on after the main event and it took Coalisland southpaw a while to get going against unknown Welshman Busuttil. After an uncertain opener ‘Fearless’ got to grips with Busuttil and did enough to get the victory. Referee John Lowey had it 39-37 over the four rounds.

Lightweight: David Joyce bt Andy Harris TKO1

FORMER amateur stand-out Joyce had no trouble blowing away out-of-his-depth Harris. A right hand drove Harris into a neutral corner and Joyce stepped in to finish the job. With the writing on the wall, referee Eamonn Magill had seen enough and stopped it after 1.43 of the first.

Lightweight: Gary Cully bt Josh Thorne TKO3

Light-Middleweight: Anthony Fowler bt Laszlo Fazekas pts 60-54

Welterweight: Josh Kelly bt Jose Luis Zuniga TKO2

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