Belfast boxer Ryan Burnett has said aiming to unify the bantamweight division is a gamble, but one he is confident about taking.
The 25-year-old takes on his former stablemate Zhanat Zhakiyanov ina world title bout at the SSE Arena in his home city on Saturday night.
The fight will be Burnett’s first defence of his IBF title, but his Kazakh opponent’s WBA belt is also on the line.
“We could have swerved this fight, but the opportunity to unify the division came up and sometimes you have to take risks,” the Belfast fighter said.
“If you gamble at high stakes, the rewards are big, but so are the risks.”
Burnett weighed in at 8st 5lbs 6oz at the Titanic Hotel on Friday – two ounces heavier than 33-year-old Zhakiyanov.
“Zhakiyanov’s a very tough man, but he's got ability too,” Burnett said.
“But I know he's there to be beaten and, if someone is going to take that title off him, it’s me.”
He added: “We sparred a lot five years ago.
“But I was only 19 and I hadn't developed, hadn’t had a pro fight - whereas he was 27, a strong man, and fighting for the European title.
"So I don’t look at that at all.”
Zhakiyanov added: “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.
"I don’t believe that that he’s the best that I have faced so far. I’d say Karim Guerfi and Rau’shee Warren are better."
Zhakiyanov became the first fighter to be led to a world title by Ricky Hatton, when he recovered from two knockdowns in Ohio in February to defeat then-defending champion Rau’shee Warren.