Aberdeen-based bantamweight Billy Stuart hopes sparring with world champion Zhanat Zhakiyanov can boost his own bid for future glory.
The 19-year-old rising professional went toe to toe with the reigning WBA bantamweight champ over multiple rounds at ring legend Ricky Hatton’s gym in Hyde, Manchester.
Zhakiyanov faced Stuart during his preparation camp for a world title unification bout against Ryan Burnett in Dublin on Saturday, October 21.
Macduff-based Stuart not only sparred with the world champion, he lived with Zhakiyanov for a week.
Boasting 27 wins (18KO) and just one loss, Kazakhstan’s Zhakiyanov will put his WBA world title on the line against undefeated Burnett (17 wins), who has put his IBF title into the mix in a unification clash.
Stuart will be in action again on Saturday, November 25, over six rounds at the Hilton Treetops Hotel, Aberdeen.
He said: “Sparring and training with a world champion was a great experience and a tremendous learning curve.
“Zhakiyanov was living in a house in Manchester by himself training for his world title fight.
“I lived with him for a week and was sparring, running and training with him for that time.
“He can hardly speak English but he can still understand what you are saying, although it was probably a bit harder for him due to my Scottish accent.
“Sparring with Zhakiyanov gave me a real confidence boost and showed the level I am at because if I can mix it with a world champion in sparring I must be doing well.
“Hopefully Zhakiyanov is the level of opposition I will be facing in the future.”
Despite the language barrier, did the Kazakhstan fighter, a former European champion, offer any vital advice?
“Yes,” said Stuart.
“He gave me advice with his hands.
“To keep my elbows down as he was banging in body shots.
“It was a learning curve.”
Former two-weight world champion Hatton is Zhakiyanov’s trainer and Stuart’s sparring sessions were at The Hitman’s prestigious gym.
Undefeated featherweight Jack Bateson, who was in the GB squad and British Lionhearts, also sparred with the Khazak.
Stuart said: “I thought I sparred pretty well in the rounds I had against Zhakiyanov.
“I hit him with a body shot and he didn’t really like it.
“There were three other boxers sparring with Zhakiyanov including myself.
“Out of all the sparring partners I felt I did the best.
“The others went on the back pedal and away from him but I stood in the middle of the ring to push him back and put him on the back foot.”
A seven-time Scottish champion, Stuart is rapidly gaining a strong reputation south of the border.
Commonwealth Youth Games silver medallist Stuart sparred three rounds with two-weight world champion Carl Frampton earlier this summer.
Zhakiyanov will face Burnett in a top-of-the-bill clash where Stuart’s Granite City clubmate Darren Traynor will contest for a title on the undercard.
Traynor will face Belfast’s James Tennyson for the WBA international super-featherweight title.
Stuart said: “Zhakiyanov is set to face a really good boxer in Ryan Burnett, who likes to mix it up, so it was also good sparring for him.
“For a bantamweight I am pretty big so I was bigger than Zhakiyanov.
“However, for the size of him he hits very hard.”
Stuart’s manager and trainer David McAllister jun of Northern Sporting Club is convinced sparring with a world champion was invaluable experience for his fighter.
McAllister said: “Billy was caught by good punches but he also caught Zhakiyanov with a few shots.
“He showed over the sparring that if he was caught with something he could adapt and come back.
“Zhakiyanov sparred with another two highly regarded fighters but Billy did the best against him. It was more valuable experience for him.”