Why Zhakiyanov is set for a shock when he faces me in world title bout, explains Burnett
Ryan Burnett says WBA World champion Zhanat Zhakiyanov will be left stunned by how much he has progressed since the last time they shared a ring.
IBF World bantamweight champion Burnett and Zkakiyanov were once gym-mates under the guidance of former light-welterweight kingpin Ricky Hatton in Manchester before the Belfast man moved on to link up with coach and manager Adam Booth.
This Saturday night at Belfast's SSE Arena, Burnett and Zhakiyanov meet in the first world title unification bout to take place on the Emerald Isle, four years on from their sparring days in Hatton's gym.
"I know that he's in for a shock. He's looking back to when I was a kid and mark my words I was a kid and I didn't have half the skill set that I do now," said 25-year-old Burnett.
"He's going to remember those spars were 50-50 spars. He was very knowledgeable then and I wasn't. He had the skill set, I didn't, he had the experience and the age, I didn't and still I was giving him hell. It was 50-50, if not leaning my way.
"So now I look forward to bringing all I've learned to the ring on the night and showing the world that I'm a force to be reckoned with. I'm a completely different fighter to back then."
Kazakhstan warrior Zhakiyanov, though, believes that he has managed to garner a greater wealth of experience along his path to world title glory and feels this could be the deciding factor in what many feel will be a tight encounter.
"Ryan was a young pro at the time we sparred and has developed into a worthy champion. However, he needs to understand that I have also developed and travelled around the world fighting better opposition," said Zhakiyanov.
"I travelled to the US to beat Rau'shee Warren in his home town where I went down early and pulled myself off the canvas. I don't know if Ryan has that experience and heart that I have.
"You have to congratulate Ryan on a good victory over an awkward opponent back in June to win the IBF title, but my style is different to Lee Haskins."
Meanwhile, Carl Frampton will expect to have to wait until next summer at the earliest before he has a shot at revenge against WBA world featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz stopped former Frampton victim Chris Avalos in the early hours of yesterday morning in California to retain his title, setting up a re-match with Abner Mares. "Now, we're ready for Mares," said Santa Cruz, who is expected to face Mares in March.
Mexican Mares outclassed fellow countryman Andres Gutierrez - whom Frampton was supposed to fight in July - on the same California bill, leading promoter Richard Schaefer to talk up his shot at revenge against Santa Cruz.
"That was not a win, that was a statement," Schaefer said of Mares' triumph. "If Abner looks like that in March, nobody can beat him."
The winner of Santa Cruz-Mares would then look for a summer battle with Frampton, who will seek to return to winning ways on November 18 at Belfast's SSE Arena when he meets Mexican Horacio Garcia.
WBA super-middleweight champion George Groves says Chris Eubank Jr "doesn't stand a chance" of beating him when the two meet in the World Boxing Super Series semi-final.
Groves, 29, set up the bout by stopping fellow Briton Jamie Cox in the fourth round at Wembley Arena on Saturday. He will face Eubank Jr in January or February next year.
"He's improved but hasn't boxed anyone on my level," said Groves.
"If I box like I did (against Cox), he doesn't stand a chance. I boxed tremendously."