Even boxing’s staunchest detractors would struggle not to take to World Boxing Organization (WBO) World Lightweight king Ricky Burns. The two-weight world champion from Coatbridge, Scotland is both a thoroughly decent human being and a consummate professional athlete; courteous, humble, clean living and frighteningly dedicated to his craft. He is an inspiration to all who come into contact with him.
The perfect role model, our sport needs Burns to enjoy continued success but his hegemony shall come under serious threat at the SECC, Glasgow on Saturday evening when vicious and spiteful Londoner Kevin Mitchell strolls into town hell bent on mugging the champion of all he has worked so hard for.
But the 29 year old Scot is as combative between the ropes as he is passive beyond. Yesterday, speaking to boxing writer Glynn Evans, he assured fans he is primly prepared to meet and thwart Mitchell’s challenge.
The Scot makes the second defence of his WBO lightweight crown live and exclusive on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 437/Virgin Ch. 546). Join at www.boxnation.tv
Do you consider your last victory, that comprehensive points win over Paulus Moses, the most complete performance of your career?
I try not to look at it like that. Every fight is very different in its own way. Styles make fights and you prepare differently, reveal different qualities, for each of them. I usually train for every eventuality but don’t decide how I’m actually going to approach the fight until the first bell rings. Then I go on instinct.
With the Moses fight, we knew I’d be best served sticking to my boxing, keeping it long, sticking behind the jab, because we knew he was very dangerous with the right hand and, right enough, when he did catch me clean I certainly felt it. Once again I proved my chin.
Paulus hit very hard. My defence was very tight but, by the end of 12 rounds, my left arm was ‘dead’ from blocking his right hands. Overall, yep, I was pretty pleased with my effort.
What have you been up to in the interim?
I got married to Amanda at the end of April. We had a fantastic day, the weather was excellent, then we went on honeymoon to Mexico. It was the first time I let myself ‘go’ in ages and my longest break I can remember from the boxing gym. I was on those ‘all you can eat’ buffets and, though I don’t usually drink, I let my hair down once or twice.
After this fight, provided I don’t get cut or anything, I’ve promised Amanda that I’ll take her to Vegas. I’ll be taking my kitbag with me, mind, and seeking out a few gyms. Floyd Mayweather is my favourite boxer right now so I’d love to workout alongside him.
You’re notoriously shy, yet each successive fight draws a bigger crowd, and greater publicity and acclaim. Does all the attention continue to embarrass you?
I’m starting to get used to it but it really isn’t me. I do the press and PR stuff because it’s my job but I never mouth off; always treat my opponent with respect.
As a fight builds up, I like to try to keep things as normal as I can. I still work one shift a week on Saturday’s at a sports shop here in Coatbridge which keeps my feet on the ground. People can bring stuff in for stuff for me to sign or to have a photo taken which is nice.
Out of training, I’m invited to a lot of functions and I try to attend as many charity dos as I can, then cut it right down once hard training begins.
As an apprentice pro, you featured on the championship undercards of guys like Scott Harrison and Alex Arthur. Now you’re Scotland’s flagship fighter yourself. How do you feel about that?
I’m aware that my success allows the young up and coming Scottish fighters, particularly those I train with at Billy (Nelson)’s gym, the opportunities to fight regularly before home crowds and experience big crowds, big nights, big atmospheres.
It’s nice, obviously, but I try not to put any added pressure on myself. I just get my head down in training, produce my best on the night and then, whatever happens, happens. I’m aware that you can’t win them all. If I did lose it wouldn’t change my attitude to boxing. Boxing is all I’ve ever wanted to do.
Things have come full circle and, on Saturday, Scott will feature on your undercard. Now that he too is campaigning at lightweight, there’ll naturally be a clamour to match the pair of you if you both keep winning. Would that be something that would interest you?
I’ve never been one to pick and choose who I fight. I leave that entirely to my promoter Frank Warren and my manager Alex Morrison and I’d like to think my track record shows that I’ve never ducked anybody.
For a start, I’m not about to look past Kevin Mitchell. Also, because Scott has been away so long, we’ll not really know what he’s got left until he steps up his level of opposition in a few fights time. I wish Scott all the best. We did spar once quite a while ago and, let’s say, I did alright.
Given that all the intense and strenuous training has now been completed, the final week must be a real chore. How do you retain your focus and sanity?
With difficulty. Every boxer is the same. They can’t wait to get the weigh-in over. All the hard graft is in the bag, and in the last few days we’ll just tick over with light and fast stuff. But this is when we have to cut down on our food intake and you can get a bit ‘snappy’.
This camp has especially dragged because I began sparring at the very start, 12 weeks ago, to help Bradley Saunders get ready for his fight on the Haye-Chisora card.
Would it be fair to say that Kevin Mitchell at his best – and every report indicates that indeed he is, both physically and mentally – provides you with the stiffest challenge of your career, so far?
Maybe. Since the fight was announced, the boxing forums on the internet have been full of stuff about how Kevin blows hot and cold, but we know this is potentially an extremely tough fight. We can’t control what Kevin Mitchell turns up, we can only fully prepare to get everything right from our end. And I can assure you, that’s what we’ve done.
The popular consensus was that John Murray would be too strong for Kevin because he was coming off a stoppage to Michael Katsidis, had been out for a while, and Murray was flying at the time. But, having sparred Kevin in the build up to that fight, I told everybody he’d have too much.
Everybody knows Kevin can punch and he’d shown when he beat Breidis Prescott how good he could also be when he goes back foot. I knew he’d beat Murray but, even then, though everybody thought he looked very impressive, Kevin got dragged in once or twice when he really didn’t need to.
In his tune up with (Felix) Lora, he fought the right fight, in and out. Kevin’s got lots of tools but, the way we train, whether he decides to box or brawl, we’ll be ready.
Much has been made of the ‘spar’ you had, in the formative stages of Mitchell’s preparation for the John Murray fight last summer (2011). Even Kevin admits that you got the better of proceedings, but claims you were in far better shape. It must be difficult not to get complacent, knowing you had his number?
No, no. Sparring’s sparring; totally different. On fight night, neither of us will have headguards or fat 16oz gloves on. I can’t speak for Kevin but it’s no secret that I treat my spars like a fight and always give my all. The only thing I would like to point out is that it was only about five or six weeks before the Murray fight so Kevin must’ve had reasonable fitness himself.
People are also making a big thing that I beat Michael Katsidis quite comfortably and Katsidis stopped Kevin but, likewise, that will have no bearing. Styles make fights. I read nothing into that.
Does the England-Scotland dimension add a bit of spice for you?
Not personally, but some of the fans will no doubt make a big thing of it. For me, it’s just my job. Once the bell goes, it’s never about where the opponent is from, it’s solely about getting the victory.
The bookmakers have it mighty close. What type of fight are you expecting and what do you have, that Mitchell doesn’t, that’ll see you victorious?
I’m not really fussed what type of fight Kevin brings. If I can win by boxing back foot without taking any shots then that’s what I’ll do.
But I think there’ll almost certainly be times in this fight when we’ll have to trade and I absolutely guarantee that I’ll not be the one backing off first. I’ve been sparring with a big local middleweight called David Brophy and also (ex British light-welter champion) Ashley Theophane has been down. I’ve been working on backing them all up. I couldn’t be happier with how my sparring has gone.
After my camp, I feel so physically strong and intend stamping some authority in the first few rounds. I’ve never claimed to be a one punch knockout artist but I certainly hit hard enough to prevent opponents from rushing in, charging through me. Apparently, you can get 6-1 on my winning by stoppage at any time. That’s got to be worth a few quid of anybody’s money!