DESPITE only gaining a draw with Raymundo Beltran, Ricky Burns entered the realms of boxing legend on Saturday night in Glasgow when he contested the final ten rounds of a bruising, brawling world lightweight title fight with a broken jaw.
It was confirmed yesterday that Burns had suffered the fracture in the second round, and he has had an operation to put a titanium plate in his jaw.
To fight on after such a serious injury is something truly remarkable. In 2006, Arthur Abraham did so to retain his world middleweight title against Edson Miranda, but the best-known such occurrence was when Muhammad Ali famously fought ten rounds with a broken jaw against Ken Norton 40 years ago, though Norton won that fight.
Beltran only got a draw against a man he knew was in great pain, but more about that verdict later, because the first task must be to salute the monumental courage of Burns.
The man from Coatbridge has been in several wars and never taken the easy way out. Remember that Burns’ previous opponent, Jose Gonzalez, quit on his stool with a wrist injury at the end of the ninth round. On Saturday night Burns had to fight ten rounds with his face being battered by a relentless and ruthless opponent.
Yes, he smothered the Mexican and held on in clinches – the referee should have intervened much earlier than he usually did – but Burns was trying to protect his jaw and somehow find a way of gaining a result and hanging on to his WBO belt, which he did with the help of truly inspirational support from his legion of Scottish fans.
Promoter Eddie Hearn confirmed that Burns almost quit several times: “On four or five occasions he was leaning up against the ropes and he said he was 50-50 about whether he was going to turn his back and say I can’t go on.”
Somehow, he fought on, to record what must be considered the most courageous performance ever seen in a British boxing ring. Sadly, Burns’ extraordinary achievement will be overshadowed by the necessary controversy over the verdict. There were a number of very close rounds, but Beltran did enough to win, as Hearn admitted.
“I gave it to Beltran but it was very, very close,” said the promoter. “If it had gone one round either way I would not have made a fuss, but one thing I will say is that you have to take the belt off the champion.”
Anyone who thinks that judges Carlos Ortiz Jnr of the USA, Belgium’s Andrew Van Grootenbruel and Richie Davies of the UK conspired to deliver a draw probably believes that the X-Files was a documentary series. They scored it respectively 115-112 for Burns, 115-113 for Beltran and 114-114, proving one thing at least – how close a fight it was.
Beltran’s manager, Steve Feder, was quietly incandescent: “He was robbed, of course. I think it’s just a sad day for the sport. It’s a sad day for boxing and it’s not the only day we’ve had like this.
“Saying we’ve been robbed makes it about us but today is about boxing. Boxing was robbed here.”
Feder made one very telling point. Had Beltran got the verdict, in view of Burns’ injury a rematch would have been made in the USA where the Scot would have been lionised for his courage and gone home a very rich man.
The best thing that Burns could do now is to get over the injury and operation, enjoy his enforced rest and being with his new son, and come back next year at light-welterweight where he could bid to become Scotland’s first three-weight world champion.
Showing that you can come back from serious injury was former British featherweight champion, Paul Appleby of South Queensferry. Knocked out cold by John Simpson in a Celtic super-featherweight championship bout almost 15 months ago, Appleby was hospitalised with a bleed on the brain.
Now 26, Appleby has made an excellent recovery and has also moved up two weight divisions to light-welterweight.
Despite looking understandably rusty, Appleby deserved to beat Lee Connelly of Derbyshire on points over six rounds. We will see more of him in the ring soon as he looks to get back to full fitness, and drop to lightweight.
The undercard was full of undoubted Scottish success. Steve Simmons of Leith won the WBC International Silver Championship with a unanimous victory on points over David Graf of Germany.
Jon Slowey of Glasgow was taken to points by Angel Lorente of Spain for the WBC international featherweight silver championship, but the Scot won by a big points margin.
Scott Cardle of Lytham St Annes has a Glaswegian family, and his brother Joe plays for Raith Rovers, so there were plenty of his family and friends in the SECC to see a terrific display of counterpunching as he outclassed Gary Fox in an eight-round lightweight contest.