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Bantamweight titleholders Ryan Burnett, Zhanet Zhakiyanov facing off to unify titles in first defense

Bantamweight world titleholders Ryan Burnett and Zhanat Zhakiyanov are wasting no time with showcase defenses.

Instead, Burnett and Zhakiyanov, who both won their 118-pound world title belts earlier this year, will seek to unify their titles in their first defenses when they meet on Oct. 21 at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn announced on Wednesday.

Ryan Burnett, a bantamweight world titleholder, will seek to unify his title against his former sparring partner Zhanat Zhakiyanov, in October. Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
"I'm so proud firstly to be part of history in bringing this huge unification to Belfast but also of Ryan Burnett for taking on this huge challenge," Hearn said. "Following his great win against (Lee) Haskins for the title, it would have been so easy to come back to Belfast with a standard defence but Ryan wants to be great and make history and this fight against Zhakiyanov can do just that. It's a brilliant fight and it's going to be a special night on Oct 21."

Burnett (17-0, 9 KOs), 25, of Belfast, won his version of the title on June 10 at SSE Arena as he knocked Haskins down in the sixth and 11th rounds and cruised to a one-sided unanimous decision to claim a world title.

Now he will be at home once again aiming to unify titles.

"I'm very, very excited," Burnett said. "This is the path I've always believed in and asked for -- to be not just a world champion but a great world champion and this is exactly the fight that propels me into that position. I wouldn't have it any other way."

Burnett and Zhakiyanov are familiar with each other from past sparring sessions.

"I've done a lot of work with him in sparring but back then I was a kid and hardly had any fights and he was fighting for the European title," Burnett said. "I know what it's like to share a ring with him but he doesn't know what it's like to share a ring with the current Ryan Burnett. A lot has changed since we last sparred for me but not with him. It's good to have that bit of knowledge. I know a few things about him. That can only work in my favor.

"The Belfast fans have really took a shine to me, especially since my last fight. Everything has taken off and I'm just looking forward to getting back to the SSE Arena with a packed house behind me."

Zhakiyanov, 33, of Kazakhstan, held an interim belt when he met full titlist Rau'shee Warren on Feb. 10 in Toledo, Ohio, on Feb. 10. Although Warren knocked him down twice in the first round, Zhakiyanov (27-1, 18 KOs) rallied for a split decision victory to win the title.

"I've won against all titleholders that my management team put in front of me," Zhakiyanov said, listing the various opponents he beat for regional titles. "And in Ohio against Warren. Ryan Burnett will not be different from what I've always achieved."

Zhakiyanov, who fought once previously in Belfast in a 2013 knockout victory, is trained by British legend Ricky Hatton, the former junior welterweight and welterweight world titleholder.

Author: Dan Rafael
Source: http://www.espn.com/boxing/story/_/id/20225559/bantamweight-world-titleholders-ryan-burnett-zhanet-zhakiyanov-seeking-unify-titles

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