There was considerable surprise in the boxing world when Ricky Burns announced in April that he would be leaving the gym of Billy Nelson in Lanarkshire and switching to a new trainer, Tony Sims, whose gym is in the north-east London suburb of Hainault.
It will therefore be Sims in Burns’s corner when the Coatbridge boxer attempts to resurrect his stellar career in his comeback fight against Dejan Zlaticanin of Montenegro at the Braehead Arena on Friday night.
The one-sided nature of American star Terence Crawford’s victory over Burns in March prompted the move, and in truth Burns had looked stale in his previous two contests, the controversial draw with Raymundo Beltran of Mexico – Burns still hasn’t received the appropriate credit for fighting ten rounds with a broken jaw – and the astonishing victory over the “retiring” Puerto Rican Jose Gonzalez.
Still, the change of trainer shocked many. Burns had been with Nelson for seven years, starting at Alex Morrison’s gym in Glasgow, and they seemed an inseparable team, but those who have followed the former world super-featherweight and lightweight champion would realise that Burns is capable of making decisive moves if he thinks it will further his career.
He had been with Rab Bannan of the Barn club for 14 years before defeat by Carl Johanneson in a British super-featherweight title fight in early 2007 prompted the move to Nelson, who then set up his own Fighting Scots gym in Stepps.
Burns said: “When I left my old trainer to join Billy Nelson it was the same attitude that the time was right to leave as I was getting a bit bored and it’s the same scenario now.”
Sims and Nelson are friends and the move has apparently been amicable, which leaves the question: Will it work? Will we see a new, revitalised Ricky Burns, the kind of fighter who blew away his new stablemate Kevin Mitchell in four rounds in 2012?
Mitchell and Martin J Ward are just two of the Sims team, the trainer also being responsible for Olympians Luke Campbell and Anthony Joshua, as well as John Ryder and Darren Barker, who became the stable’s first world champion when he beat Daniel Geale in New Jersey last August.
Burns knows that it is a quality outfit and is loving the sparring he gets in Hainault. He said: “It’s a great bunch of guys in the gym with Kevin, Martin, John, AJ – it’s all the faces that are popping in all the time. You can be in the gym and someone will just roll in and you can spar with them.
“I’m a lot happier getting to the gym and if you are happy going to your work then you are going to be better at it.”
Top-rank sparring also makes up for Burns having to absent himself from wife Amanda and year-old son Leon.
Burns said: “It was a big decision to move down to Essex and away from the family but Amanda knew that I had to do it and I am only away during the week then home for the weekend. It’s just ten or 12 weeks for the camp then there’s a few weeks off after it and we’ve booked a holiday which is nice and something to look forward to.
“For now it’s just a training camp but I could get used to it with the weather being so good. You wake up in the morning and the sun is out so it’s easier to get up for those runs.
“The variety of training is great, too. Every day Tony Sims gets us doing something different. The sparring is always intense and that’s the way I like it because you only get out what you put in, the daily routine is always mixed up and that keeps you on your toes.”
Dejan Zlaticanin is a dangerous unbeaten opponent in what is billed as the WBC International Lightweight title but is really the world title eliminator. The 30-year-old Montenegrin has never fought outside the Balkans, however, and may find the Braehead crowd intimidating.
Burns said: “Last time I fought there was in March 2012 against Paulus Moses, it’s a brilliant venue and I reckon it’ll be another great night for me in Glasgow.”
So, is this a must-win fight? Burns had to agree: “Yes, I suppose so, but that puts more pressure on and, when you go in there looking for the big punches to look good, it doesn’t happen.
“I am just going into this fight and looking to stick to my boxing and, if I have got to him and hurt him, I will be looking to close the show, but as long as I win that’s the main thing.”
New trainer Sims is happy with Burns’s commitment. “I haven’t changed anything in his boxing style,” he says. “He is 31 now, he’s late in his career and I am just trying to add tiny things to his style that I hope will be noticeable in this fight.
“It’s about the desire. If that is there after losing his world title then he can definitely come again and be world champion. He’s got plenty of hunger and he wants to prove it so he’s got a great chance to go again because he has the right attitude.”
In what is the best undercard on a Braehead bill since the heyday of Scott Harrison, Stephen Simmons and Wadi Camacho will finally get their grudge match on for the WBC International Silver cruiserweight title.
These two men really do not like each other and if they trade punches the way they exchange insults, it will be a cracker of a fight.
Glasgow’s Willie Limond will face Curtis Woodhouse for the British and Commonwealth light-welterweight belts – veteran Limond himself says it’s a must-win fight – while unbeaten Scottish featherweight champion Jon Slowey will again face Kris Hughes in a rematch that hopefully will live up to their first bout last December.
Topping the bill is Burns and, if he wants to continue enjoying that status, he must show that new trainer Sims has given him something extra.