Ricky Burns Dazzles at Wembley; Groves destroys Smith

by John Wight: Ricky Burns delivered a world class performance against a world class opponent at Wembley on Saturday night, pitching himself among the elite of the division after only his first fight at lightweight. The improvements the Coatbridge fighter has made since his last career defining performance against former super featherweight world champion Roman 'Rocky' Martinez in September 2010 were apparent from the opening bell. His jab is faster, his footwork is better, and most of all his right hand is stronger and thrown with much more effect than was previously the case.

The fact that many boxing pundits and commentators were expecting Burns not only to lose against Michael Katsidis but lose heavily merely adds to the immensity of his victory, which came by a fully deserved unanimous points decision.

The fight began predictably with Burns intent on keeping proceedings long, utilizing his range and jab to control the fight, trying not to give too much ground to an opponent whose marauding come-forward style had seen him KO 23 of his opponents in 33 fights. The much vaunted power, speed and intensity of Katsidis was still there. But on Saturday he came up against an opponent whose intensity more than matched his and whose superb conditioning and mental strength enabled him to stick to a gameplan that Katsidis was unable to overcome.

Every time the Australian came forward looking to land bombs, Burns caught him on the way in, pumping the jab with rapier-like precision, which he combined beautifully with stiff right hands and shots to the body. Even on the inside, on those occasions when he found himself against the ropes, the Scotsman looked in control and never appeared in serious trouble, bringing to bear the short uppercut that has become a trademark. Even in the 5th, when Katsidis manages to penetrate his opponent's defence, he never looked like getting Burns out of there, and from the middle rounds on the Australian's face told of his inability to avoid the superior and much more effective punches of his opponent. Katsidis tried manfully to pour on even more pressure in the late rounds, endeavoring to take the fight into the trenches, but by this point his punches had lost much of their snap as Burns' superior conditioning told. The huge smile that beamed across the Scotsman's face as he got off his stool at the start of the 12th could only have demoralized his opponent, who proceeded to give everything he had left in the tank in the hope of registering a last-ditch KO.

But it was not to be. Burns would not be denied a victory that was made all the sweeter by the fact he'd been written off so roundly going into the fight.

In terms of its significance, Scotland hasn't had a fighter of the caliber of Ricky Burns since the halcyon days of Ken Buchanan and Jim Watt. The way that Burns is able to raise the level of his performance the better his opponent is an ability that only a select few possess. No fighter in the sport fights with more intensity than he does, and having had the privilege of witnessing Burns spar and train, this writer can attest to the dedication and passion he brings to his work in the spartan surroundings of the Fighting Scots gum just outside Glasgow. Much of the credit for this of course goes to Billy Nelson, Burns' trainer, whose stable currently ranks as one of the most impressive in the country. Self belief in his own ability as a trainer and confidence in his fighters defines Nelson, who learned his trade working with Scott Harrison and who like all successful trainers refuses to cut corners in the gym. Nelson also possesses a wealth of technical know-how, evident in the effectiveness of Ricky's game plan on Saturday, which effectively neutralized one of the most potent offensive fighters currently plying their trade.

The new interim WBO lightweight champion, Ricky Burns, won a spectacular victory at Wembley on Saturday night, the best any Scot has won there since the national football team defeated England at the old football stadium of the same name and carried off the turf and the goalposts in celebration. A man whose humility and down-to-earth personality stands out amid the bombast and boasting we've become used to in the sport, he's arrived at the elite level as a breath of fresh air.

Wherever he goes next it will be with confidence that he can compete with anybody in the division. Not only that, after Saturday he will take with him a new legion of fans.

Yes, his performance really was that good.

In other action on the card:

Bradley Skeete TKO 5 Jay Morris
Darren Cordona PTS 4 Aaron Fox
Gary Corcoran PTS 4 Billy Smith
Francis Luke Robinson PTS 4 Sid Razak
Ricky Burns UD 12 Michael Katsidis
George Groves KO 2 Paul Smith

Article posted on 06.11.2011

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