FOR ANY professional boxer, reaching the age of 30 is something of a watershed moment in their career. It’s the age when fighters realise that their time in the ring is limited as the ageing process begins to affect their reactions and recovery from injuries.
On 13 April, Scotland’s only world champion, Ricky Burns, will reach that milestone and, with a massive unification contest against IBF lightweight champion Miguel Vazquez to come before that birthday, it seemed a good time to ask him about his future intentions and how he sees himself and his “legacy” – to employ that much over-used word.
The WBO lightweight champion from Coatbridge didn’t quite say “legacy, what’s that?” but he dismissed such talk, as he has whenever he’s been asked about his record, or his place in the pantheon of Scottish boxing.
“As far as legacy goes, look, boxing is just my job,” said Burns. “I don’t like putting pressure on myself and, when I stop boxing, no one will ever be able to say that I shot my mouth off, that I said ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that’.
“I have always taken things one fight at a time. I always do my talking in the ring and it is the same with this fight, I just want to get out there and get on with the job in hand.”
So how long will we see him in the ring? The answer is the revelation that he will fight on, but possibly sees his future as a coach.
Burns said: “I am a young 30 with not a lot of miles on the clock so I will keep going as long as I am not getting hurt.
“I have been speaking about opening up my own gym in Coatbridge and I got a lot of interest from kids wanting to come along and learn to fight. I looked at premises last year and I am still in the process of doing that, and the interest I have got from kids wanting to start out is really, really good.”
There’s new maturity about Burns. Perhaps the result of getting married? “No, nothing has really changed. I have been with Amanda for nine years so we both knew what we were letting ourselves in for, so nothing’s changed as yet. We’ve spoken about having kids, so let’s just see what happens.”
Having followed his career from the outset, this writer sums up Burns in a computer term – WYSIWYG or What You See Is What You Get.
He really is a humble individual who detests fuss and media hoopla, and is probably only happy in the bosom of his family and friends or in his trainer Billy Nelson’s Spartan gym out beyond Shotts.
Ricky Burns is also on the cusp of becoming Scotland’s greatest-ever boxer – if he can beat Vazquez of Mexico and then unify the lightweight division by beating the mighty American Adrien Broner, who himself had a tough contest against British and European champion Gavin Rees of Wales scheduled for the early hours of this morning. Beat Vazquez followed by either Broner or Rees and Burns will surely be acclaimed as Scotland’s best of all time. The only person who won’t say that will be the man himself. It’s just not in his nature.
“It is the way I was brought up,” he explains. “I have two brothers and two sisters, and we were all well brought up and I think we are all quite quiet.
“When I was at Columba High School I was really quiet, and I am still that way even now. I hate people making a fuss and, after fights, I just like to keep quiet for a couple of weeks and get back to normality. That’s probably why I still work as well, still doing a Saturday job in the sports shop – it gives me something to do apart from training.”
Yet no one should confuse that straightforwardness and genuine humility with a lack of confidence or self-knowledge. Burns knows he is good.
“It’s about the self-belief that I have got,” he said. “I have always said that I am always prepared to fight whoever is put in front of me. My attitude has always been the same since I first put the gloves on when I was 12.
“Nobody knows more than me that this is going to be a tough fight but, when I was first offered the fight, the first thing that I said was ‘let’s do it’.
“These are the fights that are going to bring out the best in me, and it’s going to be another case of the better the fighter I face, the better I will be. We know he is a very good technical boxer and this guy can give you nightmares with his style but training has been going well and we have been working on a few different things.
“This is one of those fights where we are just going to take it one round at a time.
“I am good at adjusting the way I am fighting depending on my opponent, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
“He is tall, he has big long arms and is a very good technical counterpuncher but I have a plan for him – and a plan B and plan C as well.”
Burns latterly struggled to fight inside the super-featherweight limit and making the weight for his successful defence against Nicky Cook – he knocked out the Englishman in the first round – depleted his resources so badly he said “no more”.
“Nicky Cook was the last straw for me,” said Burns, “and when you think that people are now saying that I am massive for a lightweight, you can see that it was the weight that was the problem. Over the last year I can feel a big difference in my physical strength, and the move up in weight has done me the world of good.
“I am comfortable at lightweight, and maybe I will do another year or two at lightweight and then move up. If I get offered a big fight at light-welterweight, well, you never know.”
Miguel Vazquez will be a very tough nut to crack at Wembley Arena on 16 March, the fight being shown live on the Boxnation channel.
He won’t thank me for writing this but, beat the Mexican, and Burns will surely – finally – get the sort of recognition he deserves as one of the finest sportsmen this country has ever produced.