Why Ryan Burnett will be in trouble if he doesn't beat Zhakiyanov in early rounds, reveals Ricky Hatton
When former world champion Ricky Hatton looks at Zhanat Zhakiyanov he sees a little of himself allied to the toughness of middleweight king Gennady Golovkin - a spikey cocktail which he believes will see him triumph this Saturday night in Belfast's SSE Arena.
WBA World bantamweight champion Zhakiyanov arrives as the slight underdog as he prepares for a unification battle with IBF champion Ryan Burnett.
But Hatton, who once coached and managed Belfast man Burnett, believes his 33-year-old little warrior from Kazakhstan has the critical edge in experience.
In February, Zhakiyanov had the win of his career when landing the WBA title with a points victory over highly-rated American Rau'shee Warren and Burnett joined him with world title status when outpointing veteran Lee Haskins in June.
Hatton points to both successes and their overall respective records to make his case for a Zhakiyanov victory.
Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph, Hatton said: "Ryan will never have been hit as hard as Zhanat is going to hit him that's for sure and I'm sure Ryan knows that. As yet Ryan hasn't faced a puncher and when you think that the two best fighters he has beaten are Ryan Farrag who's a good lad and Lee Haskins, I would have to say that Zhanat has beaten better men.
"Zhanat has ticked the boxes that Ryan hasn't so that's why I favour my man but I understand that Ryan is seen as the favourite in this fight because he's at home and because of his skills. But if Ryan doesn't get rid of Zhanat early on then he's going to be in trouble because Zhanat will keep piling on the pressure.
"That's what he does and I have told him that he can't stand off Ryan because that would be boxing suicide because we know how good a boxer Ryan is.
"The Warren fight has set Zhanat in good stead for this fight. We know that the Belfast fans are going to be making a lot of noise and that it will be a hot atmosphere but it was the same in Toledo and Zhanat came back from being on the floor to beat him.
"Ryan hasn't had to do that, he hasn't had to dig deep yet. Ryan is still a work in progress. He may come through with flying colours but we don't know. He's a very talented boxer but Zhanat is going to take him to a place that he has never been to before.
"He's going to take him to a point where he has to bite down on the gum shield. Up to now in his amateur fights, as a professional, even in the fight with Lee Haskins, Ryan has always been on top."
Hatton, a world champion at light-welterweight and welterweight, signed up Burnett when he decided to go professional at just 20 having been an Olympic Youth gold medallist and very quickly predicted a bright future for the Belfast man, though after three years they parted company.
Nevertheless, he has watched on with a certain amount of pride as Burnett has gone on to become the IBF world champion.
"I have a lot of respect for Ryan, I really admire him. I texted him before his world title fight and texted him after he won it. I was very sad when he left me because even in a short space of time we had been through a lot - even just the first year getting him the right medical people to sort out his issue with his scans so he was passed to box," said Hatton, who does not believe the spars between the two boxers in his gym will have any bearing on Saturday's outcome.
"The sparring was very good and if I'm honest Ryan probably got the better of the sparring.
"He edged it probably because of his natural ability and the skills he learned as an amateur but there's a big difference between sparring with 16oz gloves and fight night with 8oz gloves.
"Zhanat has an incredible work ethic and toughness. The hardness, the tenacity that he has is the equal of Gennady Golovkin. Kazakhstan is a place that for me is like the Mexico of Europe. It's a tough place, they breed them tough over there and Zhanat is just like that.
"He's been a pleasure to work with and it's been great bringing him through and to see him go from zero to world champion with no amateur background worth talking about has been amazing and I would say the greatest achievement I've had since I stopped boxing."