Rau’shee Warren has reached the top of the 118-pound division after a long climb, and now he’s getting one of the spoils by making his first title defense close to home.
Warren (14-1, 4 KOs) will put his world championship on the line against mandatory challenger Zhanat Zhakiyanov (26-1, 18 KOs) on February 10 at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio, just 200 miles from his lifelong hometown of Cincinnati.
The 118-pound title bout is the co-main event to Toledo native Robert Easter Jr.’s 135-pound title defense against Luis Cruz (Bounce TV, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT), and comes just three days before Warren’s 30th birthday.
Rau'shee Warren, the only boxer to represent the United States in three Olympics, says defending his crown at home alongside Easter will be a surreal experience. It will mark just the second time Warren has fought professionally in his home state; the first was a victory over Jose Luis Araiza in Cincinnati in September 2014.
“As amateurs, me and Robert dreamed about fighting as professional champions on the same card,” Warren says. “And now all of Ohio is coming out to see us.”
To prepare for Zhakiyanov, Warren returned to Barry Hunter’s Headbangers Gym in Washington, D.C., for his second straight training camp. The 5-foot-4½ champion also prepped there last year for his title rematch against fellow southpaw Juan Carlos Payano.
After losing a split decision to the Dominican champion in a rough fight in Winter Park, Florida, in August 2015, Warren took the title from Payano by majority decision in Chicago in June.
During preparations last May for the Payano rematch, Warren was able to spar for two days with powerful southpaw Gervonta “Tank” Davis, who has since gone on to win his own world championship at 130 pounds with a knockout of Jose Pedraza in January.
With Easter already having been crowned 135-pound champion in September with a split decision over Richard Commey in an action-packed bout in Reading, Pennsylvania, Warren says he has drawn added inspiration from his fellow titleholders heading into his own defense.
“Watching Robert and Tank become champions was motivational,” Warren says. “I’m ready to defend my title with the hunger of a challenger.”
“ As amateurs, me and Robert [Easter Jr.] dreamed about fighting as professional champions on the same card. And now all of Ohio is coming out to see us. ” Rau'shee Warren, 118-pound world champion
In D.C., Warren has been training alongside former 140-pound champion Lamont Peterson, who is preparing to challenge David Avanesyan for a 147-pound title in Cincinnati on February 18.
“Since I got here in December, it’s been champions building up champions in the gym,” Warren says. “We’re going hard, pushing and motivating each other. You’ll see the results on both cards on February 10 and February 18.
“I’ve been weighing out at 120 or 121 every day, so I’m just sharpening up my craft so I’ll be really strong come fight time.”
Zhakiyanov, 33, has competed in 11 countries over his 9½-year pro career, but he will be fighting in the United States for the first time.
The Kazakhstan native last fought in November 2015, when he earned a 12-round split decision over Yonfrez Parejo in Monaco, ending Zhakiyanov’s run of 12 straight knockouts.
Warren insists he already knows what he'll be dealing with come fight night.
“One round of one of his fights was all that I needed to see,” Warren says. “He comes straightforward trying to walk you down.
“He’s a mandatory, so I won’t overlook him. I respect everybody, but I see myself giving angles, wearing him down and beating him easily—especially in Ohio.”
For a complete look at Warren vs Zhakiyanov, visit our fight page.