WHAT you see with Ricky Burns is what you get. As television reports from his public workout in Glasgow showed, Scotland’s only world professional boxing champion really is one of the most gentlemanly people in sport.
Until he strips for action, you would perhaps anticipate him being a mild-mannered shop assistant, which is exactly what he is at weekends, helping out at his local sports shop in Coatbridge.
Yet, as challenger Jose Gonzalez will find out at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow on Saturday, Ricky Burns is an altogether different creature in the ring.
When the bell goes, nobody attacks Burns with impunity. His destruction – there was no other word for it – of the much-touted Kevin Mitchell inside four rounds in his last fight in Glasgow in September showed just how ferocious Burns can be. Outside the ring, too, Burns is a determined man, and his move from promoter Frank Warren, after planned fights collapsed, to Warren’s deadly rivals Matchroom went ahead despite threats of legal action. So what frame of mind is the world lightweight champion in at the moment? How fearsome can he be against a noted puncher?
One man knows Burns best of all, and if unbeaten Puerto Rican Gonzalez, who has stopped 17 of his 22 opponents, reads these words from Burns’ trainer Billy Nelson, he might think twice about coming to Glasgow for a war, which is what most pundits anticipate the bout will be.
“Ricky’s mind has been totally focused ever since he joined Eddie Hearn at Matchroom, who has a clear path and a clear plan for him,” said Nelson. “He is really up for this fight, he’s always fit, and we now know this fight is happening after a long time of ‘will it happen or won’t it happen’.
“I am confident of a stoppage victory for Ricky. It’s not like me to say that, but I told people he would stop Mitchell and I am telling you he will stop this guy as well.
“I know how hard he is punching, he’s still improving and he’s not peaked yet. He is fit, he is down to 5 per cent body fat and you need that for your brain to work, and he’s punching harder than ever. So that’s why I say he will stop Gonzalez.”
Nelson is known for the many hours he spends examining videos of Burns’ opponents, looking for weaknesses that the champion can exploit. That was most famously demonstrated when he worked with Burns on throwing a left hook to the lower body of Nicky Cook. The English challenger went down and out with the first such punch in their fight in Blackpool in July, 2011.
Nelson has spotted at least one gap in Gonzalez’s armour but, not surprisingly, he won’t reveal it. “Everybody’s got faults whether they choose to admit them or not,” said Nelson. “I never comment on what I have highlighted but, hopefully, we will see it on Saturday.”
The two fighters have one opponent in common – Joseph Laryea of Ghana, who was outclassed by Burns in seven one-sided rounds in March, 2011. Previously a conqueror of Scotland’s Paul Appleby, Laryea’s career nosedived after Burns stopped him, and it was no surprise when Gonzalez had an easy victory over him last July, the African retiring with a mystery injury after just two rounds.
So no real clues for Saturday’s bout but promoter Hearn is confident that Burns will be back at the Emirates Arena in September, possibly against IBF champion Miguel Vazquez.
Promoting his first bill in Scotland, Hearn revealed that, had former two-times world featherweight champion Scott Harrison won his European title fight against Liam Walsh last month, Burns might well have been facing his fellow Scot next. Hearn said: “In his day Scott was a great fighter and, had he won that fight, it could well have happened in September.
“I wouldn’t now make that fight until Scott has credibility again.”
Hearn has learned quickly that Burns and Nelson are a formidable team even if they occasionally exchange words. “Billy is such a character, they have such a great relationship, they know each other so well and the respect is mutual, but they’re like two old ladies at times.” That’s a description that might come back to haunt Hearn...
Gonzalez is a very big puncher and Burns would be well advised to stay out of his reach. But the Puerto Rican has never gone beyond ten rounds and, at the business end of the fight, the champion should have enough in his locker to see off a difficult opponent, especially if Nelson has spotted something lacking in the challenger.