Sitting ringside at the Ricky Burns v Raymundo Beltran fight in Glasgow last Saturday, I was never more proud to be associated with the sport of boxing, as a writer, nor more ashamed.
Scotland’s Ricky Burns and Mexico’s Ray Beltran are true warriors, honourable men who are a credit to their respective countries and to a sport which throughout its history has regularly made headlines for all the wrong reasons. The draw that was announced at the end of the fight was not only a travesty, it was a crime. Not only was Ray Beltran denied his just deserts for the endless weeks of hard training, sparring, and sacrifice it took to get himself ready, Ricky Burns was forced to endure the embarrassment of standing in the ring with his hand raised in front of 6000 spectators and the millions watching at home, who all knew he’d lost. As a genuinely decent man, this undoubtedly hurt the WBO lightweight champion, adding to the physical trauma of the broken jaw he sustained early in the fight.
What kind of courage does it take for a man to box ten rounds with a broken jaw? It defies belief, challenging every semblance of reason and logic. But the type of inner courage and pride Ricky displayed in doing so transcends reason and has little to do with logic. It was something primitive and pure that drove him to continue in defiance of instincts of self preservation that were clearly screaming at him to stop. In hindsight – which of course is twenty-twenty – he would have been pulled out and saved from himself. But no blame can be apportioned for Ricky going the distance. His trainer, Billy Nelson, was not to know that his fighter’s jaw was broken, and even though Ricky was clearly being bested in round after round, he continued to fire back throughout, which merely adds an extra layer of greatness to his reputation.
But what needs to be resisted is the idea that the broken jaw he sustained can somehow be separated from the fight, as if it was an accident. His broken jaw was the result of Ray Beltran tagging him with a vicious left hook. From then on the Mexican took the fight to the champion over the succeeding ten rounds during which he never took a backward step, continually walking through his opponent’s shots and bossing the fight. When Ricky wasn’t backpedalling, desperately trying to keep Beltran off with his jab, he was in his shell against the ropes being taken apart, or else grabbing and holding to prevent himself being taken apart. All this he did with a broken jaw, even getting up from a hard knockdown in the eighth round. What a phenomenal testament to the human spirit.
But Ray Beltran won the fight, which even promoter Eddie Hearn was gracious enough to admit afterwards. The two judges responsible for the travesty of the decision – which overshadowed both Ricky Burns’ inhuman courage and Ray Beltran’s superb performance in front of partisan crowd thousands of miles from home – must be held accountable. There is far too much at stake for either man to continue as judges; the integrity of the sport first and foremost, which on Saturday night in Glasgow was violated.
Ray Beltran and his camp conducted themselves in exemplary fashion before and after the fight. Beltran fought like the champion he undoubtedly is, and after the fight he and his impressive manager Steve Feder were the epitome of dignity in every interview they gave and the way they responded to what was a clear injustice. They are the kind of people boxing needs, the best the sport has to offer and deserving of more than sympathy and platitudes.
Ricky Burns has done the decent thing and already stated he wants the rematch. Eddie Hearn stated that while there is certainly a moral case for a rematch, he doesn’t know if there is the demand to make one financially viable, especially as he sees Burns moving up to light welterweight. Obviously the priority at this point is making sure Ricky recovers and is able to fight again. His preparation for this fight was less than stellar. The arrival of a new baby the week before, causing him to lose sleep, was a disaster in terms of his focus and physical readiness. The result was a broken jaw. Boxing is far too dangerous for any fighter to step through the ropes less than one hundred percent physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared. Ricky wasn’t on Saturday, and though he is someone who would never use that as an excuse, it surely played a part in what unfolded.
But back to the rematch and this is one of those times when the moral argument trumps the financial one. Beltran and his camp have already intimated that they would not be interested in coming back to Scotland to fight again – and who could blame them? Do they deserve to call the shots in this regard? Perhaps in time, as the scars of the injustice suffered heal, they may reconsider. If so it would certainly and rightly have to involve the inducement of a significantly increased purse.
The alternative is having the fight in the US, though maybe not as a main event. Ray Beltran is a Top Rank fighter. The prospect of a rematch with Burns being on the undercard of a Manny Pacquiao fight is surely viable in terms of money and exposure. It is something for the promoters and both camps to consider, but consider it they must for the sake of the integrity of the sport.
Ricky Burns and Ray Beltran were a credit to themselves and to boxing on Saturday night. Their courage and dignity demands nothing less than a rematch.