Ricky Burns can follow and surpass Jim Watt

WHEN Ricky Burns enters the ring at the SECC to defend his WBO lightweight world title against Terence Crawford next Saturday night, he will be standing on the brink of history. He can become the Scot who has successfully defended his world title the most times.

Ricky Burns celebrates his victory over Jose Gonzalez last May. Picture: Getty
Ricky Burns celebrates his victory over Jose Gonzalez last May. Picture: Getty

He can also learn from history as it was 34 years ago that Scotland’s previous world lightweight champion, Jim Watt, took on an unbeaten American who was being hyped as boxing’s next big star.

That June night in 1980 at a rainy Ibrox, Watt gave a boxing lesson to Howard Davis and the American went home shattered by the sheer strength and pressure which Watt exerted, not to mention the Scot’s sheer boxing tradecraft.

Legendary American promoter Bob Arum saw his potential superstar humbled and conceded afterwards that Watt was “a helluva fighter”. Guess which promoter has been hyping Crawford, pictured right, in the run-up to next week’s clash? Scottish fight fans will be hoping that Crawford, Arum and Co will be sent “homewards tae think again” in the words that Watt sang from the ring on that memorable night.

Crawford is an exceptional fighter, no doubt, but so was Raymundo Beltran, the man who broke Burns’ jaw in their epic battle last September. For all the claims of a fix and a home-town decision, the fact is that Burns showed heroism of the highest class to carry on boxing for ten rounds of the fight with a broken jaw, and “draw” is what it says in the record books and that meant Burns kept his belt

For the first time, Burns has opened up about the sheer unadulterated pain that he suffered against Beltran.

“It wasn’t even a good shot that caused it,” said Burns. “I went back to the corner at the end of the second round and sat down and knew that something was not right, it just didn’t feel right.

“I went out in the third round and took a couple of shots, went back again and I couldn’t close my mouth and when I took a drink I couldn’t spit. Then I leant forward and the blood started to come out of my mouth, and I knew that it was broken and there was serious damage.

“The pain was shocking. From the fourth round onwards, every time I was in the corner and saw the girls going round with the card with the round on it, I was just round-watching – it felt like the longest fight ever. When it got to round ten I knew I could reach the end of the fight.

“It’s always in the back of your mind that you don’t want to quit, I don’t mind if I lose by getting stopped or KOd, but giving in or retiring is just not in me.

“The left hook that put me down was right on the point of the jaw where it was broke and I did think to myself, what is the point of going on here, I had five or six rounds with the broken jaw then took that clean shot right on it to knock me down. But quitting is just not in my make-up, I had to carry on and hear that final bell. When I was in the changing room I was almost laughing through the pain. My baby Leon was only a couple of weeks old then and I just wanted to get home and see him.

“I was saying to the doctors in the changing room, ‘just give me some pain killers and I’ll go to the hospital in the morning’ but of course I am glad I took their advice and went straight to the hospital. They gave me morphine there and it wasn’t working, Eddie Hearn came in and saw me soon after and said why don’t you give him something else, the pain was that bad.”

Burns has not really been given the credit his extraordinary bravery demanded. Don’t forget, his previous opponent, Jose Gonzalez, quit after the ninth round due to a broken bone in his wrist – and the Puerto Rican was well ahead at that point. How much greater, then, was Burns’ courage in taking blow after blow on a jaw which subsequently needed a titanium plate inserted to mend it.

“The jaw is completely fine,” Burns reassured his fans. “The first eight or nine weeks was a nightmare. They told me to watch what I was eating to avoid chewing too much, but because of the strict diet ahead of the fight, I sort of swerved it. I was eating what I wanted and was having to break it into tiny bits and place it in my mouth carefully, but I ended up chewing the inside of my mouth to bits! It was rough, but it’s all in the past.

“I started sparring for the fight in mid-January and we’ve had lots of different styles to counter whatever Terence brings tonight. I’ve taken a few shots and it’s held up fine so, fingers crossed, there’s no accident.”

Burns wanted the rematch against Beltran – “it was the right thing to do” he said – but the WBO had other ideas though and forced a mandatory defence, “If I can beat Crawford then the rematch is still an option,” said Burns. “I have heard Beltran is boxing Roman Martinez which will be a cracking fight, but I have a huge fight ahead of me.

“I don’t look at who is the favourite, that sort of thing doesn’t concern me. I’ve been written off before, I’ve been the underdog in a few of my biggest fights and it brings out the best in me, and hopefully this is the same.

“I’m under no illusions, this is a very tough fight. He’s an up and coming star in America, he’s 22-0 with 16 KOs, so we’re up against it, but, fingers crossed, it’s another one of these fights that I rise to the occasion.

“It’s always great fighting in Glasgow – how is he going to react walking first into the packed SECC? It’s going to be a sell-out and the atmosphere will be electric, I can’t wait.

“How will he cope with the pressure and the fans booing him? We can only wait until the night, and once the bell goes it just comes down to us. I don’t need to ask the fans to roar me on because they are unbelievable and they do it for every fight.”

On a superb undercard, John Simpson versus John Murray is a standout fight while it will be interesting to see if Olympians Anthony Ogogo and Anthony Joshua continue their progress.

But all the attention will focus on Ricky Burns as he attempts to repeat Jim Watt’s feat of 1980 and defeat an unbeaten American. Burns knows the history, and it will spur him on.