Rau’shee Warren made a huge opening statement in his first 118-pound title defense, but it wasn’t enough to deny the unyielding attack of Zhanat Zhakiyanov.
Fighting just 200 miles from his hometown of Cincinnati, Warren gained two first-round knockdowns Friday night to land an early advantage at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio. However, Zhakiyanov stayed the course as he wore down Warren over the late rounds and earned the championship via split decision.
Competing for the first time in the United States, Zhanat Zhakiyanov (27-1, 18 KOs) won the title in his first fight in 15 months as he used a high-volume assault to overwhelm Rau’shee Warren (14-2, 4 KOs) in the second half of the bout.
The 33-year-old Kazakh slugger earned winning scores of 115-111 and 116-110 from judges John Stewart and Brian Kennedy, respectively, while Walt Hazzard Jr. scored the bout 115-111 in Warren’s favor.
“I knew at the end of the fight that I deserved to win, but because of where we were, we weren't sure if the judges would give it to us,” Zhakiyanov said. “So that surprised us, but not that I won the fight.
“I was hurt early but I outworked him in almost every round after that and was the stronger fighter in the end.”
Warren, 29, showed off his superior hand speed and some surprising power in Round 1 when the southpaw floored Zhakiyanov with a left uppercut and then dropped him again seconds later with a right hook.
“The knockdowns shocked me, but (trainer and former two-division world champion) Ricky Hatton kept me levelheaded, telling me the adjustments I had to make,” Zhakiyanov said. “Once I was able to get inside and force the action, I saw [Warren's] energy level drop.”
Zhakiyanov began to make his charge in Round 3 when he landed a couple of right hands that preceded Warren going to the canvas, but referee Gary Rosato ruled it a push. “ZZ” then landed some strong shots right before the bell against Warren, who began bleeding from the nose.
Zhakiyanov is listed at 5-foot-7, but he was clearly shorter than the 5-foot-4½ Warren. That didn’t prevent the challenger, though, from applying constant pressure and landing solid blows with both hands as the champion’s punch rate decreased significantly after the early rounds.
“ Now I have to prove to these judges the second time what I should've got tonight. Of course I want that rematch. I want my world titles back. ” Rau'shee Warren
The Kazakh boxer continued to walk through Warren’s punches and force him into retreat through the middle rounds, cutting off the ring and bludgeoning the three-time U.S. Olympian to the head and body.
Zhakiyanov stumbled and nearly went down as a result of a jolting seventh-round left uppercut, but Warren couldn’t keep the rugged challenger from imposing his will.
Warren tried to re-establish his jab and rely on his movement in the later rounds to fend off his opponent, but Zhakiyanov finished strong as he continually pinned the champion against the ropes and fired away with an unrelenting barrage of punches.
Warren lost for the second time in his last three fights. The slick southpaw won the world title last June by majority decision in a rematch with Juan Carlos Payano after dropping a split decision to the Dominican in August 2015.
After coming up short against Zhakiyanov, Warren expressed his disagreement with the judges’ decision.
"Man, I won that fight. I knocked him down. I was landing the cleaner punches and making him miss,” Warren said. “What it is, the judges are favoring aggressive fighters, even when they ain't landing.
“I went through the same thing with Payano, losing the first fight that I should've won and then getting the decision in the rematch. So now I have to prove to these judges the second time what I should've got tonight. Of course I want that rematch. I want my world titles back.”
In undercard action, 160-pound prospect Terrell Gausha (19-0, 9 KOs) overcame a knockdown in Round 3 and dominated Luis Hernandez (15-4, 8 KOs) the rest of the way to earn a 10-round unanimous decision and remain unbeaten.
For a complete look at Warren vs Zhakiyanov, visit our fight page.