With Britain’s boxing community still raw a week after the death of Mike Towell, any rash talking before tonight’s WBA super-lightweight title fight between champion Ricky Burns and Kyril Relikh from Belarus would have been inappropriate, to say the least.
The build-up has been notable for the mutual respect shown by both camps and Relikh’s trainer, Ricky Hatton, went further yesterday by describing the Scot as one of the United Kingdom’s all-time greats of the sport.
Hatton believes that Burns deserves greater recognition for his achievements, although the publicity-shy 33-year-old would not welcome it.
Even if, as he hopes, Burns loses his belt to the challenger, Hatton has no doubt that Burns warrants more credit than he has thus far received.
“He should be held in the same regard as myself and Joe Calzaghe,” he said. “Joe’s appeal was that he had his unbeaten record, which was a big thing.
“For me, I had a very exciting style that people loved and I was a bit of a scallywag as well! But Ricky has done something myself and Joe haven’t - he’s won world titles at three different weights.
“People might say he lacks my charisma or Joe’s unbeaten record but his achievements are right up there. There have only been three British fighters who have done it: Duke McKenzie, Bob Fitzsimmons and Ricky.
“It’s not just that, it’s the person he is as well. I can remember when Ricky first won his world title and he was still working in a sports shop.
“That’s the type of humble guy he is and he deserves all the plaudits going. He’s made history.
“All of these guys we are talking about did something special and Ricky will always go down as Scotland’s first three-weight world champion.”
Hatton celebrated his 38th birthday yesterday but claims that training his first world champion would be the icing on the cake for him.
Privately, though, there may have been some concern, though, that Relikh needed three attempts before he made the 140lb limit at yesterday’s weigh-in.
“Kiryl’s a really nice, down to earth kid; if he wasn’t, I wouldn’t be training him,” said Hatton. “I wouldn’t be associated with anyone who wasn’t a good person but he’s also got that nasty streak you need in the ring.
“This is my old belt and it will be a massive milestone for me. There are not many people who have won world titles who then go on and train world champions.
“It will be a very big night for me but it’s a bigger night for Kiryl. I’ve already fulfilled my dreams, it’s time for him to fulfil his. Training a champion is the next best thing to being one yourself. I know how much it means to him and how much it means to everyone in the corner. It’s like we are reliving our youth. But this means the world to Kyril and his family and it means the world to me as well; maybe not quite as much as my fighting days, but not far behind. I’d love him to achieve what I did.
”I was always in great shape going into bouts. Kiryl is the same and does the hard work in the gym, although he doesn’t have the rounds under his belt that Ricky has but I’ve no doubts about his stamina or his confidence. He is more than ready. When you get to this stage before a fight you want to be able to look yourself in the mirror as a fighter and a trainer and say you have done everything right. I think we can do that.”
As if to underline the point Hatton had made, Burns played down the glowing tribute from the Englishman.
“Boxing is my life,” he said. “This is my 47th fight. I’ve been boxing for over 20 years and this is what I love.
“As long as I’m fighting, that’s all I care about. The plaudits and awards and stuff are all well and good but, honestly, the belts lie in my spare room.
“They get dug out for weeks like this but they will be back in there again next week. I don’t look at how people judge me in terms of what I’ve achieved. I’ve got a lot left in me and I’ve always just taken it one fight at a time.”
Dillian Whyte, beaten in seven rounds by Anthony Joshua last December, meets Ian Lewison for the vacant British heavyweight title in the chief support while Lytham-based Scotty Cardle defends his British lightweight crown against Kevin Hooper.