Ryan Burnett has battle on his hands to win world bantamweight unification battle says Ricky Hatton

IBF bantamweight world champion Ryan Burnett and WBA 'super' champion Zhanat Zhakivanov came face-to-face at the Waterfront Hall yesterday Picture by Hugh Russell.
Andy Watters

RYAN Burnett will have to delve deeper into his fighting heart than he ever has before to hold onto his world title on Saturday night predicts Ricky Hatton.

IBF bantamweight champion Burnett takes on Hatton hardman Zhanat Zhakiyanov, the WBA ‘super’ belt holder, at the SSE Arena and ‘the Hitman’ warns that the Kazakh is the more “battle-hardened” of the pair.

“Ryan isn’t short in the heart department but he hasn’t had to show it yet as a pro. He might have to on Saturday,” said Hatton, himself a two-weight world champion.

Kazakhstan has produced just two world champions - Zhakiyanov and pound-for-pound global superstar Gennady Golovkin - and while Hatton concedes that Burnett has more talent and slicker boxing skills, he feels that Belfast’s first-ever world title unification showdown will be won by the man who wants victory most.

“I think it’s a 50-50 fight,” said the four-time world champion.

“Stylistically, I don’t think there are many better fights out there anywhere.

“Ryan is a very good fighter and he can adapt, but Kostya Tszyu (Hatton beat him to win the IBF light welterweight title in 2005) was a good fighter who could adapt and Rau’shee Warren (the man Zhakiyanov beat to win his WBA belt) was a good fighter who could adapt…

“Sometimes fighters can diffuse your talent by using certain gameplans and tactics. I can’t help but see it 50-50 but at some stage the winner will have to bite down on his gumshield and I don’t think we’ve seen Ryan do that yet as a pro because he’s been too good, he’s not had to show it yet and my lad has.

“That’s what gives me a little bit of hope that my lad can come out on top – he’s a little bit more battle-hardened.”

Burnett will have a vocal home support to cheer him on, but Hatton was quick to point out that Zhakiyanov travelled to Toledo, Texas in February and beat pre-fight betting favourite Rau’shee Warren’s home town on a split decision.

“The hostile atmosphere won’t affect Zhanat because he has proved he can cope with it,” he said.

“You never know, it might add more pressure to Ryan in his home town? But you have to understand the mentality of Zhanat, he doesn’t give two hoots, he’s not bothered about the crowd.

“I’m more concerned Ryan’s ability and talent and the gameplan him and Adam (Booth) will come up with on the night. I’ve no doubt I’m giving Zhanat the right advice and I’ve no doubt Adam is giving Ryan the right advice, it’ll come down to which lad can apply the tactics best. It’s that close.”

As Hatton says, his former fighter Burnett “isn’t short in the heart department” and the now London-based north Belfast boxer has come through tough fights against the likes of Jason Booth, Ryan Farrag and Lee Haskins to get to this level.

“It’s a massive night for me,” said Burnett as he looked forward to taking on his former sparring partner Zhakiyanov.

“I don’t want to be a world champion, I want to be a great world champion and to have the opportunity to fight another world champion in my home city is something I’ve always wanted. I’m blessed to get that opportunity on Saturday night.

“I know what to expect, I know what’s going to happen in there but also I’m prepared to deal with anything that goes on. Adam has prepared me very well for every situation that happens.”

He added with a laugh: “Since I won the IBF belt I pushed my fiancé to the side and the belt sleeps beside me. I’m looking forward to having another one squeezed in with me.”

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