By John Wight: At a packed Braehead Arena in Glasgow on Saturday night, Scotland’s Ricky Burns retained his WBO super featherweight title with a unanimous points win over Norwegian domiciled Columbian challenger, Andreas Evensen.
Burns, who won the WBO title in spectacular style against the former Puerto Rican champion, Roman ‘Rocky’ Martinez, in September, on a night which most commentators agree qualified as one of the best they’d experienced among many great ones in the pantheon of Scottish boxing, looked in superb condition when he climbed through the ropes. The day before the champion had weighed in at bang on the 9st 4lbs super featherweight limit, having to strip naked in order to do so. Given the fact there wasn’t an ounce of extraneous fat on him when he stepped on the scales, it appears that the Coatbridge’s fighter’s future lies in the lightweight division..
Evensen meanwhile looked equally sharp and well trained, though standing significantly shorter in height and smaller in dimension you immediately felt that Burns with his superb jab was facing an opponent who was tailor made for him. It was feeling which seemed borne out when Evensen hit the canvas within seconds, succumbing to a flash right hand. Despite protesting to the referee that he’d slipped, the challenger was given a standing eight-count, and at that moment it seemed a short night was on the cards. But Evensen, who came to the fight with a solid record of 13 wins and just one loss on his record, proved himself worthy of the opportunity of a shot at the title.
Back he came, impressively undeterred by the stiff jabs and overhand rights he was eating with alarming regularity as he tried to take the fight to the champion, who was being roared on by the partisan crowd. A pulsating encounter it was, with both men leaving nothing in the tank as they battled it out, though in each exchange it was Burns who came out on top. In the fifth the champion rocked his opponent with a vicious right hand-left hook combination, but was unable to put him away, with Evensen showing impressive determination and guts to hang on.
In the later rounds Burns was clearly looking to bring matters to a close, but just couldn’t seem to find the killer punch. With the fight being fought at such a he blistering tempo, both fighters began to tire, though with Burns continuing to land the more effective punches.
In the eleventh, the champion hunted down the Norwegian, urged on by the crowd as he went looking for the knockout. However, yet again, Evensen refused to go down. Indeed by then it would have been a travesty if his courage wasn’t rewarded by going the distance and being allowed to take the deserved standing ovation he received from the crowd at the final bell.
Regardless, despite his courage and tenacity there was only one winner and Burns can look forward to a well deserved break after what has been the most tumultuous year in the 27 year old Coatbridge man’s nine years as a pro.
In the lead up to the fight, the buzz in Scotland had centred round a future match up between Ricky Burns and South Queensferry’s much talked about Paul Appleby in the New Year. This unfortunately now appears wishful thinking after the former British featherweight champion went down to defeat over 12 rounds at the hands of a formidable Ghanian in the shape of Joseph Laryea. Bearing a striking physical resemblance to Breidis Prescott, who briefly interrupted Amir Khan’s progress with a brutal KO back in 2008, Laryea gave the young Scot a lesson in the pulverising effectiveness of a stiff jab.
Appleby, despite manfully sticking to the task, had no answer to the African’s reach, and from the early rounds his face told of the long, hard night that lay ahead. Trying desperately but failing to land that devastating left uppercut to the body which has served him so well throughout his career, Appleby found himself being mercilessly ground down by his opponent’s left hand, complemented by the occasional right, as the African took command of the centre of the ring.
By the end of the fight, a courageous Appleby had acquired a nasty cut above his left eye and his face was badly swollen, reflecting his achievement in hanging on to last the distance. This achievement was somewhat marred, however, by the fight being scored a split decision, with one judge inexplicably giving the nod to Appleby. Even the most partisan supporters of the home fighter, myself among them, would not have denied the African his just deserts of a unanimous points victory.
For Paul Appleby then a return to the gym and a reappraisal of a defence, which on Saturday night consisted of standing in front of his opponent with his hands up taking shot after shot, must surely beckon. Aged just 23 time remains on his side, however, which along with his undoubted talent will hopefully see him re-emerge next year once again as a genuine title contender.
Elsewhere on the latest Frank Warren promotion, former British, Commonwealth, European and world champion, Alex Arthur, continued his comeback with a unanimous decision over Jay Morris from the Isle of Man. Arthur, now fighting at lightweight, is looking to return to the limelight in 2011 with another title shot. At 31 the Edinburgh fighter is at a stage in his career when the motivation of fighting for titles is necessary in order to bring out the best in him. This certainly seemed the case on Saturday night, as he dominated his tough opponent without really turning on the magic we know he can produce.
Hot prospect, Callum Johnson, fresh off the back of a spectacular gold medal victory at the Commonwealth Games in India, made his pro debut against Belfast’s Phillip Townley. Johnson duly produced the goods with a second round TKO. With new manager, Naseem Hamad, looking on from ringside, the explosive young Scot and latest addition to the Warren stable, looks set for big things in the years ahead.
Another notable stand out on the undercard was Edinburgh light welterweight, John Thain. A stablemate of Arthur and Appleby, Thain came through his third outing as a pro in exemplary style with a stunning first round stoppage. Standing at 6’1”, Thain fights with the kind of elegance and movement that calls to mind a young Tommy Hearns. The joy he brings to his work is infectious, suggesting as with Callum Johnson that a bright future lies ahead.
So all in all a successful world title defence by Ricky Burns in front of another packed house. In Scotland at least boxing continues to enjoy a renaissance.
Long may it last.