Billy Nelson’s role in steering Ricky Burns to world titles in two weight divisions must never be diminished. The Coatbridge star was a forlorn, twice defeated 23-year-old when residential care worker Nelson hopped onto the trainers saddle following ‘Rickster’s’ February 2007 British super-feather title loss to Carl Johanneson. Nineteen fights together since have brought 19 victories, the last half dozen in World Boxing Organization (WBO) world championships.
Formerly the chief pad man to Scott Harrison and Alex Arthur during a 14 year apprenticeship under Peter Harrison, Nelson, Essex born but a fierce Scottish patriot, has been operating independently from his ‘Fighting Scots’ gym in Stepps, Glasgow for five years now. He is widely regarded as one of the most committed and savvy coaches in the industry.
Yesterday afternoon, with Burns’ titanic title defence against Dagenham’s Kevin Mitchell drawing ever closer, the 44-year-old former amateur middleweight took time out to discuss his man’s preparations with boxing writer Glynn Evans.
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Billy, how do you reflect on Ricky’s previous defence, the comprehensive decision over Namibia’s Paulus Moses at the Braehead Arena last March? What were you happy with? What still needs attending to?
I was very, very pleased overall because Moses was an extremely dangerous opponent who’d probably take care of all the other top domestic lightweights we have. I think he was very underestimated going into the fight but never by us.
Ricky boxed really smartly, used his distance well and applied educated pressure. The only real mistake was when he lifted his head up in the first round but I quickly brought that to his attention….gently. I’m not a shouter in the corner. Ricky doesn’t need it.
Would you say the Mitchell fight is the biggest of Ricky’s career?
Could be, aye. The Martinez win will always be Ricky’s most important because that’s the fight that really put his name out there and got the ball rolling. But I guess if you’re talking with regard to profile, publicity and occasion, this is the biggest. It’s definitely the biggest arena Ricky’s fought at but he wouldn’t see it as pressure. Hopefully, he’ll feed off it.
Has Ricky done anything different for this training camp?
Nothing different, really. We’ve had 11 or 12 weeks as opposed to ten simply because we were helping Bradley Saunders to prepare for his last fight and we just carried on after that. We’ve had some fantastic sparring with Bradley, Ashley Theophane, Dave Brophy and Michael Roberts. As always, Ricky’s looking fantastic.
Ricky’s a notoriously laid back character but what’s he like in that crucial final week building up to a world championship?
Like every fighter, he becomes a wee bit edgy as he loses the final few pounds but he’s no problem. All the real hard graft has been done and Saturday night just can’t come quick enough for him. He’s ready to go now.
You’ve been with Ricky for five years now and his general improvement during that time has been phenomenal. In what specific ways have you noticed him develop, fight by fight?
I think the biggest change is that, with each new world title win, each impressive defence, he’s become more and more confident in himself and that motivates him to train harder and harder. I have to say he’s a super, super fit guy and, though he does work extremely hard in the gym, a lot of that fitness is natural. Ricky’s a fantastic athlete and if he wasn’t a boxing world champion, he could be successful in a number of other sports, but most probably as a distance runner.
Ricky’s won and defended world championships in two separate divisions now. In your opinion, what continues to drive him to get into such fantastic shape and put his body through the mill on fight night?
I think he just loves his job, and how many are in the fortunate position that they can say that? He never speaks about money or titles but he’s finally getting the rewards he deserves and that must make him happy.
What’s your assessment of Mitchell as a fighter? What do you need to be mindful of? Has Ricky fought anyone similar?
Kevin’s an excellent fighter with a really big heart and that’s half the battle. He’s also a nice guy and I’ve got the utmost respect for him. But I’ve identified a few faults that he has, that he’s not changed over the years, and we’ve been working on exposing those. I don’t believe he’s got as good a boxing brain as my man but we’ll find out about that on Saturday night.
I think there’s a bit of both Rocky Martinez and Michael Katsidis about Mitchell. He has that one punch power (Martinez) and tenacity (Katsidis) but Ricky handled both of them and has improved a lot in the gym since those fights.
Without any disrespect to Kevin, I think Martinez hits harder ‘pound for pound’. He caught Ricky with a massive, massive shot which dropped Burns in round one and the thud when it connected never left me for the whole 12 rounds of the fight!
How important will home advantage be, regarding both your preparation and on the night?
Well obviously it’s a big plus for us. Any boxer would want to be at home, sleeping in their own bed because it minimises disruption. But above all, it’s great for Scotland, Scottish boxing and especially, the local undercard fighters. We want more of these nights and that means Ricky has to keep winning in world title defences.
I have to say Alex Morrison and Frank Warren have done a great job selling the fight and we’re expecting close to nine thousand. That said, it makes no difference to Ricky if he was fighting you in an open field with nobody there. He’s just a hugely competitive guy, a winner.
So what type of fight are you anticipating; cagey or carnage?! Why does Burns win?
It’ll be a cracking fight and we’ve trained for every eventuality. Obviously I’m not about to give away how we intend going about it but I think a big plus for Ricky is that he can adapt better than Kevin; he can box, move, fight and change things up, mid round. I expect him to win because he’s just the better fighter, all round. I wouldn’t discount a late stoppage.
And then? You worked the pads for Scott Harrison throughout his entire pro career before imprisonment. Could he feature against Ricky in the not too distant …?
We’re thinking of nothing but Kevin Mitchell. It would be hugely disrespectful to Kevin to think any other. Looking beyond is how champions lose their titles.
Scott Harrison is a great, great fighter and I’m delighted to see him back and looking so well. Of course, it’s up to Frank Warren and Alex Morrison but it could well happen. What a fight that would be for Scotland.