It is not uncommon to hear it said that Ricky Burns is over the hill. The 36-year-old boxer would admit to it now. The inability to get to the gym for the past four weeks owing to the coronavirus lockdown means that the Coatbridge-based fighter is over the hill, along the road, down the street and through the parks on a near-daily basis as he pounds the ground on ever-longer runs.
And the unassuming Burns’ desire to push himself to the absolute limits on these jogs is proof to him that he retains the drive, dedication and doggedness to enjoy more moments to savour in the ring across the next couple of years. That is the aim as he targets a fitting close to a luminous boxing career possessing a shine like that of no other Scot courtesy of Burns holding the distinction of winning world titles in three different divisions. He is one of only three British fighters to achieve this feat.
When he is once more able to climb through the ropes is up in the air because of the global health emergency. Yet, “the basic isolation, like everyone else” Burns is currently living through is being alleviated by inhaling deeply on fresh air during his one daily, government sanctioned venture outdoors.
The fact he has developed an almost obsessive appetite for running is best illustrated by his plans for his 37th birthday, which falls on 13 April. “I want to run a marathon then,” he said. “In the past week-and-a-half I’ve run almost 60 miles with one ten-mile run, and two half-marathons. I did a half-marathon the other day and it took me from my house in Coatbridge to the Fort [in Easterhouse in Glasgow’s east end] and back again. I’ve worked out that to do the marathon I’ll have to go from my house, all the way into Glasgow city centre, and back. I’m going to do it.”
Burns’ enthusiasm for putting his body through these punishing rigours is a riposte, he feels. A jab back at those who wonder if the sands of time have run through the glass for putting the least glass-like jaw – he has never been KO’d in 52 fights, 43 of these won to allow him to claim the WBO super-featherweight; the WBO lightweight; and the WBA light-welterweight titles, most notably – in the line of swinging gloves.
“I’ll know myself when it is right to step away, and I won’t kid myself on,” he said. “If it came to the point I was struggling to get out of bed in the morning at the thought of training, then that would be telling. But I love training, and have loved all this running. Boxing is so tough that if your head’s not in it, you need to get out of the sport. But I am as focused and fired up as ever.
“I think I’ve maybe a couple of years, and two or three fights, left. I’d love to finish my career in Scotland, with one last big fight in the Hydro. Nothing has been mentioned, everything is on hold of course, but I’m hoping to get one fight before the end of the year and I hope I can perform again in front of those crowds who have been so good to me, and made for nights so special to me.”
Burns’ last time in the ring brought a split decision loss to British boxer Lee Selby, pictured inset, at London’s O2 Arena last October, his only fight of 2019. The defeat doesn’t make it any easier for him to get himself on a strong card, but he is in no doubt that can happen for him.
“There are always prominent names looking for fights on big nights. Alex [Morrison, Burns’ manager] knows my attitude. There were a couple of fights last year that fell through, but when this coronavirus situation eases, we’ll get down south to see what is on offer and take it from there.”
What is already guaranteed is that Burns has earned his place in the pantheon reserved for Scotland’s greatest boxers. That his accomplishments in the ring are not given the same cache among the wider public of the likes of Benny Lynch, Ken Buchanan and Jim Watt – as they deserve to be – he refuses to put down to the sport’s move away from terrestrial television.
Burns is admirably content neither to have achieved the celebrity or notoriety of those who have previously reached the pinnacle in his arena. “I’ve played a part in me maybe not having the profile of some of the past Scottish boxers, who were seen as household names. Boxing fans all know me, if not the general public, and that’s good enough for me. After fights, I just like to lead a normal life,” said Burns, who famously still worked part-time in a local sports shop when he was a world champion.
“I’m not one for going out and getting my name in the media. I enjoy being at home… though not quite as much as right now. I get invited to event after event, but I’m not interested in being a ‘celebrity’. It isn’t me, it’s not what I’m about.
“I will socialise after fights, yeah, but in the build-up to them I don’t ever answer my phone – as family and friends will tell you. I have no energy for anything beyond three training sessions a day during those periods.
“I was never going to change that bit of me, it is who I am. I want to conduct myself properly in the ring and out of it, and be known only for what happens in it. I’m just not one for putting myself out there.”
Unless it’s to hit the highways and byways on a run, that is.