THERE are more questions than answers ahead of Ricky Burns’ fifth defence of his WBO lightweight crown against undefeated American Terence Crawford at the Scottish Exhibition Centre this evening.
Successive undistinguished performances against Jose Gonzalez and Raymundo Beltran have raised doubts about Burns’ ability to remain champion by ending Crawford’s perfect record in the Omaha boxer’s 23rd contest.
Puerto Rican Gonzalez had the title in his grasp when he inexplicably retired on his stool at the end of the ninth round at the Emirates Arena ten months ago, citing a damaged wrist as his reason for quitting when three rounds in front.
Having enjoyed a stroke of luck against Gonzalez, Burns was even more fortunate when he faced Beltran last September.
There appeared little doubt in the minds of most observers that the Mexican had prevailed, given that he had broken Burns’ right jaw in the second round before also putting the Coatbridge boxer down later in the contest.
Yet the ringside judges somehow managed to score the contest a draw, to the surprise – and delight – of even Burns’ promoter, Eddie Hearn.
Beltran screamed “foul” with complete justification and the WBO was left to try and defend a decision that was largely indefensible.
But at least one man is happy to defend Burns’ recent displays, his trainer Billy Nelson, who is adamant that the champion is undeserving of criticism.
“The first one we trained for three fights and that was over-training, pure and simple,” said Nelson. “To be fair, Gonzalez was an exceptional fighter, but my argument for Ricky is that he stopped the guy.
“Ricky took his best shots up to and including the seventh round, when he soaked up punishment himself, and he came back to dominate eight and nine and the guy quit.
“That’s better in my eyes than a knock-out because you have mentally broken somebody.
“He would have beaten Beltran to a pulp, because he was outclassing him in the first two rounds, hitting him with everything, and then he got that injury. It’s like playing football with one leg, you just can’t do it, and no boxer or trainer can foresee an injury like that happening and have a game plan to counter it.
“A broken jaw from a boxer’s perspective is the worst injury. You can box on with a broken hand, but you shouldn’t box on with a broken jaw. But the Beltran fight proved Ricky has b***s and if you’ve not got them at this level you will be found out.
“Saturday night could be a game of chess or a war and I am 100 per cent confident that if it’s the latter, Ricky will still be standing at the end throwing leather. Ricky has got it in him that he doesn’t want to get beat under any circumstances. He learned from his defeats and learned really well.
“The difference between Ricky and other fighters is he can put his hands up and admit to his mistakes, like in the Gonzalez fight, when he didn’t box to the game plan.
“At the beginning of the camp we sat down and discussed exactly what it would take to beat Crawford and we said whatever we had to do on fight night we would implement in sparring and I can assure you his sparring has been fantastic.”
Nelson believes that Burns is just 12 rounds away from becoming jointly the most successful Scottish fighter of all time. He will equal former WBO featherweight champion Scott Harrison’s tally of nine world title wins if he succeeds in ending Crawford’s perfect record.
And Nelson, who was in Harrison’s corner for every one of his 11 championship bouts, claims that Burns is already a cut above.
Nelson said on the eve of this evening’s 10,000 sell-out at the SECC in Glasgow: “Ricky has surpassed Scott already, a few fights ago, in terms of the quality of the opposition he has faced, I would suggest.
“I am talking about Michael Katsidis and Paulus Moses, ex-world champions, Kevin Mitchell and Rocky Martinez, who was the super-featherweight champion and No 1 with Ring Magazine when he fought Ricky.
“That’s not being disrespectful to Scott, who was a great fighter. But, for me, there is only one person above Ricky, Ken Buchanan.”
Burns scaled nine stone, eight pounds, four ounces at yesterday’s weigh-in, where there was the customary exchange of growls and muttered comments between the fighters in addition to cheeky grins, the thumbs-up and various other gestures of defiance, while Crawford was two ounces heavier.