Reluctant local hero Ricky Burns on cusp of British breakthrough
HE IS a reluctant hero and, up until now, a largely local one. But tonight Ricky Burns could be on the verge of achieving the nationwide recognition his promoter Frank Warren believes he richly deserves.
Burns makes the second defence of the World Boxing Organisation’s lightweight title against Kevin Mitchell, a dangerous and highly-motivated challenger, at Glasgow’s SECC in what is widely anticipated to be Britain’s fight of the year.
While Burns’ excellence over the past two years is fully appreciated within boxing, through his sensational capture of the WBO super-featherweight crown against Roman Martinez in 2010 and subsequently successful move up to lightweight, the 29-year-old Scot remains largely under the radar of the wider sporting public.
But Warren believes Burns is worthy of the kind of status enjoyed throughout the UK by two of his compatriots who have already played stellar roles in a remarkable sporting summer.
“You’ve got three really good quality sporting champions in Scotland,” said Warren. “They are Sir Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and this guy, Ricky Burns. And this guy is in the toughest sport of all.
“It’s all about getting that cross-over audience to recognise how good he is and I think he can do that. We have already taken him down south, with title fights in Liverpool and London last year, so he has been seen in England. I just hope that this is the fight to finally convince people about Ricky, because Kevin has a higher profile down there.”
There is no doubting the genuine world-class quality of tonight’s contest, with Burns and Mitchell rated No 3 and 4 respectively in Ring Magazine’s respected world lightweight ratings. Only the Mexican pair of Antonio DeMarco and Miguel Vazquez, who hold the WBC and IBF titles respectively, are ranked higher.
It is Burns’ dearest ambition to be recognised as No 1 by Ring Magazine but he faces his most serious test yet against Mitchell, the 27-year-old Essex man who is rejuvenated after suffering the only loss of his career to Michael Katsidis in May 2010.
Burns’ subsequent win over Katsidis last November has led many to draw an obvious form line when assessing tonight’s fight, but Mitchell attributes his defeat against the Australian to a wayward lifestyle outside the ring at the time.
“Without a doubt this is Ricky’s toughest fight,” added Warren. “You’ve seen Kevin up here this week. He’s fit, he’s hungry. I think he’s one of those kids who you get the better out of after adversity.
“Everyone wrote him off after Katsidis, which was his own fault. But he bounced back to beat John Murray in eight rounds in a fight many people thought he would lose.
“He’s a good puncher, he’s got a great left hook. If any punch can do it against Ricky, it’s a left hook. But the other side of the coin is that it’s undoubtedly Kevin’s toughest fight yet as well. I mean it sincerely when I say Ricky is the most improved fighter in the UK. I don’t think he’s had the credit he deserves. You cut him in half and it spells heart. He’s become a really good boxer. He can mix it.
“He does things sometimes I wish he wouldn’t do, because he doesn’t need to mix it. But he’s a fighting man. He’ll stand and trade. That’s why this is going to be such a good fight.
“Both of these guys are going to wind up in the trenches. People say we hype up fights. We all need a hook. But the fact is these two guys respect each other. That’s great for boxing.
“There are different people in boxing – the Dereck Chisoras of this world, the David Hayes, then there are these guys. They will do all of their talking in the ring.
“I can make a case for both of them. Home advantage has to be in Ricky’s favour. But we’ve seen what happened when Michael Gomez came up here against a red-hot favourite and did a job on Alex Arthur a few years ago. Anything can happen. My prediction is it’s going to be the fight of the year. Unfortunately there has to be a loser.”
Warren, who promotes both boxers, is on to a winner irrespective of the result, with a crowd of 8,500 expected to pack out the SECC. “I think the ticket sales show that fans understand how big this fight is,” said Warren.
“These are tough economic times, it’s not easy, we all know that. The fans are coming out for a good fight and I’m grateful.
“It’s good for Scottish boxing and, hopefully, we can continue to do these things whatever the outcome. There is some real good talent up here and I’ve always liked putting shows on in Scotland. They are as good, if not better, than any crowd in the world – knowledgeable, partisan but fair.”
On a night when former WBO featherweight champion Scott Harrison continues his comeback on the undercard, with a possible shot at the winner of the main event, the home crowd could be celebrating a hard-earned but convincing points victory for Burns if he can negate the greater punching power of Mitchell.
• Burns v Mitchell is live and exclusive from 10.15pm on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 437/Virgin Ch. 546). Join at www.boxnation.com
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