ON A night which proved that boxing is, above all, great theatre when played out in a superb setting, no one could have foreseen the highly dramatic denouement to the main show starring Ricky Burns at the atmospheric Emirates Arena in Glasgow.
Jose “Chelo” Gonzalez of Puerto Rico was three rounds up on the scorecard of all three judges at the end of the ninth when he told his cornermen that he could not continue against the reigning WBO lightweight champion.
What happened next was a vivid demonstration of the importance of cornermen and the necessity to have insuperable courage if you want to be a true champion.
Sitting just feet away, the press were able to see the team from Puerto Rico begging their man to return to the fray, and their disgust was obvious when Gonzalez refused to take the gumshield. By Gonzalez’s own admission yesterday, he knew he was ahead, but not how far, and that is the fault of his corner – they should have said “you are well ahead, so go out and switch hit, jab with your right and use your left for defence only, see out these three rounds and you will be world champion”.
But they did not get the message through, and over in the other corner, Burns’ trainer Billy Nelson had earlier done exactly what the best cornermen do – he turned his man around and sent him out with the correct advice, tapping Burns on the head to say “start thinking”.
Nelson said: “I was worried, we were all worried, but I told him to use his brain as sometimes the heart rules the head, and it shouldn’t. It worked, he upped his work rate.”
Nelson’s intervention came after an extraordinary seventh round, containing one of the finest displays of ring courage ever seen from a Scot.
In the words of Nelson, the challenger threw everything at the champion, including a huge right that reduced Burns’ legs to a pair like those in Billy Connolly’s famous ‘“rubber man” routine.
From somewhere inside himself, the man from Coatbridge found the skill and guts to hang on and then unleashed a ferocious uppercut that stopped Gonzalez in his tracks – a fight-turning comeback if ever there was one.
“This guy has the biggest pair of gonads in Glasgow,” said Nelson.
Promoter Eddie Hearn was a bit more delicate: “Ricky broke his heart.”
Gonzalez sustained his injury – thought to be a broken wrist – in that round, when his body shot found Burns’ elbow. The pain, exhaustion and sheer bewilderment at failing to take out Burns with his best shots never really left the challenger’s face after that.
He had also never gone beyond ten rounds in his hard-punching career, which featured 17 stoppages – some spectacular knockouts among them – in 22 outings before Saturday. To go one-handed into the championship rounds against a renewed fighter like Burns is clearly something Gonzalez is not yet capable of.
He probably thought the 6,000-plus crowd inside a superb new arena for Scottish boxing were intimidating the judges, but, if anything, the three American judges had perhaps been generous to the challenger. On my scorecard after nine, Gonzalez had five rounds, Burns three, with one round drawn. But it was a difficult fight to call, mainly due to the awkwardness of Gonzalez.
For what it’s worth, I thought Burns would have felled Gonzalez in the final quarter and then won by stoppage or by the increased points gained by downing an opponent.
Asked if there would be a rematch, Eddie Hearn gave a one-word reply: “No”. He then nominated IBF champion Miguel Vazquez first of a long list of possible opponents for Burns.
The champion had to overcome the upset of seeing two title fights called off late, and had also left promoter Frank Warren so had not fought since last September. So many missed punches indicated ring rust, though fighter and trainer denied that either rustiness or distractions had caused Burns’ obvious problems – gracefully, they paid tribute to a classy opponent.
“I was saying that he was stealing the rounds,” said Burns. “I was going out to try and force it, overstretching and getting caught with shots that I shouldn’t have. I have learned my lesson.”
On the undercard, Greenock’s John Simpson’s skills beat Choi Tseveenpurev of Mongolia’s aggression for the vacant WBC international silver super-featherweight championship.
Stephen Simmons from Edinburgh maintained his unbeaten record at cruiserweight in his eighth professional fight, outclassing Ireland’s Michael Sweeney who retired at the end of the third round after taking a one-sided beating.
Glasgow’s southpaw featherweight Jon Slowey narrowly defeated Eddie Nesbitt from Belfast on points, while undefeated English super-middleweight champion Rocky Fielding knocked out Poland’s Michal Nieroda with a body punch after just 59 seconds.
Middleweight prospect David Brophy of Caldercruix scored a points win over Southern Area champion Gary Boulden of Shepperton, and Glasgow super-featherweight Michael Roberts made it a clean sweep for Scotland on the night by narrowly beating Brentford-based Pole Mariusz Bak on points.