YOU would presume that a Scottish world champion preparing to battle a top English contender in any sport or any arena would love to think that he put could one over on the Auld Enemy.
Not our current boxing world champion Ricky Burns. The Mr Cool of Scottish sport will defend his WBO title against Kevin Mitchell, the pride of Dagenham and England, next Saturday night at the SECC in Glasgow, and that ‘Auld Enemy’ stuff just doesn’t cut it with the champ, or Mitchell for that matter.
“I try not look at it that way,” said Burns, “because when you do it just puts added pressure on you. Boxing is boxing and it comes down to what you do when you step in that ring, so I just keep things like that to one side.”
Mitchell must come to the champion’s backyard of Glasgow but he was equally sanguine: “There’s no added pressure at all. Ricky’s a mate, but I have to get in there and do my job. Having a hostile crowd appeals to me, actually.”
With all the hype about the Olympics and Team GB over the summer, followed by that great Scottish tennis victory by boxing fan Andy Murray, issues of sporting nationality have been much discussed recently, so it was refreshing to hear that the only issue between the fighters is who will win, even if Burns has forgotten the recent publicity about him seeking inspiration from the Scotland rugby Grand Slam win over England in 1990.
“I have trained very hard because I am expecting a very tough fight from Kevin,” said Burns. “The training camp and the sparring have gone well and I am prepared for whatever is going to happen.” Mitchell replied: “This is the hardest I have trained for a fight, the most serious I have taken a fight in my head. It’s a make or break fight for me. Either I make myself world champion now or it’s not happening at all. Training has gone very well and I’ve kept my weight decent and been eating healthily.”
One thing which will certainly not happen is the outcome that shocked British boxing the last time Burns fought an Englishman. In Liverpool in July last year, his first devastating punch seriously aggravated a back injury that Nicky Cook was carrying and their world title fight ended after 93 seconds.
Burns went on to produce a terrific performance in beating Michael Katsidis in London on points last November, the same fighter who stopped Mitchell inside three rounds in May 2010. Mitchell came back from that reverse to beat John Murray and Felix Lora and is in good shape, helped by a stint training in the Canadian Rockies – “it was healthier out there,” said the man from Essex.
The champion, meanwhile, is preparing to fight for the first time in the SECC where so many great Scottish fight nights have taken place.
He said: “When I was growing up, I can remember Prince Naseem Hamed and Nigel Benn fighting at the SECC. My last fight in Glasgow was at the Braehead Arena but there was such a demand for tickets we have had to move to the bigger arena, and now I am really looking forward to this one.”
Burns has yet to hear a message of support from Andy Murray: “I have never met Andy but I know he’s a big boxing fan. He did really well the other night.”
No one in British sport will probably ever see the wealth that superstar Murray is set to gain, but promoter Frank Warren has offered a tantalising glimpse of future riches to Burns and Mitchell, saying: “The winner of the belt will go on next year to some really, really big fights involving some of the big names in the division. There’s a lot on the line for them.”
Miguel Vazquez and Antonio DeMarco of Mexico, Adrian Broner and Brandon Rios of the USA, Richard Abril of Cuba and current British and European champion and former WBA light-welterweight champion Gavin Rees are all possible opponents for next weekend’s victor, and Warren could make them happen due to the success of his BoxNation television channel which celebrates its first birthday this week.
Huge rewards do indeed beckon but first, though, there will be a Scotland v England encounter of note, no matter what the protagonists might say. The home crowd will lift Burns as always but it will be very tough. His greater experience against top class opposition means that Burns should win on points.
• Burns v Mitchell is live on BoxNation (Sky Ch 437/Virgin Ch 546). www.boxnation.com