By JOHN WIGHT: After his most recent devastating performance against London’s Kevin Mitchell in front of 10,000 fans at the SECC in Glasgow, it would be a great disservice to Ricky Burns to continue to describe or refer to him as a great ‘Scottish’ fighter. He has now proved beyond doubt that he is a great fighter, period, deserving of being considered elite level and more than a match for any lightweight anywhere.
His fourth round stoppage of the hard punching Mitchell, who in the run up to the fight had appeared confident of taking Burns’ WBO title, would have come as a godsend to the bookmakers, what with the bulk of the smart money opting for a points win for the Coatbridge fighter, with perhaps a sneaky wager on Mitchell by KO. This writer asserts the right to boast of betting on the stoppage by Burns. However, this does not so much reflect any great talent to pick bets on my part as it does the fact that Burns is one of the few champions in the sport who improves year on year and relishes fighting the best that’s out there, rather than remain content to stay in any kind of comfort zone in order to hang on to his belt as long as possible.
Moving up to lightweight has seen his power increase significantly, especially the right hand, which clearly got Mitchell’s attention early on proceedings, and crucially at no cost to his speed or movement. Indeed, judging by his ripped physique, Burns could go up another weight quite easily, where he would find a host of huge fights waiting for him, none more so than against Amir Khan at 140.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. First things first is the prospect and real possibility of Burns unifying the lightweight belts, currently held by Mexicans Antonio DeMarco (WBC) and Miguel Vazquez (IBF), and by Cuba’s Richard Abril, the WBA interim champion. Adrian Broner, another recent convert to lightweight, would also be an exciting opponent in Burns’ future. Unbeaten in twenty four, with 20 wins by KO, Broner is set to face DeMarco for the WBC title on November 17. This opens the door to the possibility of Burns facing the winner in early 2013. If he does, and if he emerges victorious, Ricky Burns will elevate himself to the status of the greatest lightweight to come out of Scotland since Ken Buchanan and like Buchanan will become a household name in the US.
Before then there are murmurings of Burns fighting again in December against another domestic opponent, perhaps Wales’ Gavin Rees or Scott Harrison, who fought on the undercard of the Burns v Mitchell fight and registered the second win of his much publicised comeback. If the objective in his next fight is to keep ticking over in anticipation of meeting the winner of Broner’s clash with DeMarco after the year then this makes sense. Burns is far too professional an athlete to treat any opponent lightly at this stage in his career anyhow, which along with his reputation for unflinching dedication in the gym and his adherence to the life should ensure the risk of slipping up remains minimal.
Frank Warren described Burns as the best current champion in British boxing in the lead up to the Mitchell fight, which can only be a glowing tribute from a man who certainly knows his boxing onions. Credit must also go to Burns’ trainer Billy Nelson, who for long enough has claimed that his man is the best fighter Scotland has ever produced. As disputatious an assertion as this may be at this point, it does reflect the belief which Nelson has in his fighter. Not only that, given Burns’ habit of not ducking anybody and defeating everyone who’s put in front of him, it could well prove true in the years to come. That said, with the giant shadow that Ken Buchanan casts over Scottish boxing, even if Ricky Burns falls just short of eclipsing the great Edinburgh’s lightweight’s achievements, he will more than have earned his place in the history of the sport.
The fact that despite being a two weight world champion Ricky Burns continues to work a Saturday shift at a sports store in his home town of Coatbridge is now part of his legend. It marks him out as a man in possession of enough humility to lend some to many of his peers. The most impressive thing about it is that he does so without affectation or sense that he is in any way doing anything out of the ordinary. It is a rare thing indeed to come across a world champion who does not allow success to change him, neither his approach to the sport nor his outlook on life.
He deserves every accolade he has earned as a fighter for his achievements in the ring. More importantly, Ricky Burns deserves something of far more worth – to be known as a decent human being.