Rau’shee Warren is not known for his power, but whether or not he can stop Zhanat Zhakiyanov might be the deciding factor in their 118-pound title bout.
Warren has won by knockout just four times in 14 professional victories, with the three-time U.S. Olympian relying primarily on his hand speed and footwork in his ascension to world champion.
However, Zhakiyanov’s trainer, former two-division champion Ricky Hatton, said the only shot the American southpaw has at retaining his title Friday night is by putting the Kazakh slugger on the canvas at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio (Bounce TV, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
“Warren’s a very fast, talented fighter who can cause problems in the early rounds with his speed and movement,” Hatton said. “[But] Warren will have to knock Zhanat out to beat him.
“Warren doesn't have many knockouts, but we don't read anything into that. Punches you don't see are the ones that get you. My lad is very strong, durable and will come forward all night long. We expect to win. If Warren does win, he will have had to nail Zhanat to the floor, literally.”
Rau’shee Warren (14-1, 4 KOs) will be at a 2½-inch height disadvantage against 5-foot-7 Zhanat Zhakiyanov (26-1, 18 KOs), who is ending a 15-month ring absence to fight for the title just 200 miles from the champion’s lifelong hometown of Cincinnati.
While acknowledging his modest power numbers, Warren said he is up to the challenge of stopping the 33-year-old Kazakhstan native. He stopped short of predicting a knockout, but the southpaw said he expects to be more dynamic in his first title defense as his skills have continued to progress.
“I have to be sharp in this fight,” said Warren, who weighed in Thursday at 116 pounds, whille Zhakiyanov checked in at 116.5. “I have to stick with my game plan, because this guy is coming to take my title.
“My opponent is a pressure fighter. He's trying to come forward. With the abilities that I have, I'm going to try to make it look easy."
Zhakiyanov last fought in November 2015, when he won a 12-round split decision over Yonfrez Parejo in Monte Carlo. That victory ended a run of 12 straight knockouts for “ZZ,” who claimed the 118-pound European title in April 2014 with a fifth-round KO of Karim Guerfi.
“I believe I have the power to stop Warren,” Zhakiyanov said. “He will soon find out how hard I hit, and let's see how he handles it.
“Obviously, body shots slow you down, and I'm trained by one of the world's best body punchers in Ricky. I've trained for 12 rounds, but if the knockout comes, it's a bonus.”
“ I’ll wear [Zhakiyanov] down by making him miss and pay. I can box with him or bang and slug with him—a combination of skills he’s never seen. ” Rau'shee Warren, 118-pound world champion
Warren, 29, was crowned world champion in June when he edged Juan Carlos Payano by majority decision in Chicago in an immediate rematch. In the first meeting in August 2015, Payano retained his title by split decision despite a 12th-round knockdown by Warren.
“This is going to be similar to the second Payano fight, only a lot easier,” said Warren, the only three-time U.S. Olympic boxer. “I’ll wear him down by making him miss and pay. I can box with him or bang and slug with him—a combination of skills he’s never seen.
“But I’m not going to stand and bang; I’m going to switch it up. It’s not going to be easy to take my title after what I’ve been through: three Olympics and no medal, losing the first time against Payano and winning my rematch.”
Zhakiyanov has competed in 11 different countries over his 9½-year pro career, but on Friday he will be fighting in the United States for the first time. His lone loss came in his sixth pro bout against still-unbeaten southpaw Sakhib Usarov in Russia in October 2008.
“I’ve sparred nearly 100 rounds with 10 different partners,” Zhakiyanov said, referring to his prep work for Warren. “I have watched the Payano fights, and so has Ricky. We have seen things to exploit. I am on fire to come to America and take his title back home with me.”
Warren, however, said he anticipates the strongest showing of his career as he performs before a packed house filled with friends and family rooting him on.
“As strong as I was in my last fight," he said, "I’m getting better and better.”
For a complete look at Warren vs Zhakiyanov, visit our fight page.