Vegas break for champion Burns and he’s eyeing a working return

Ricky Burns tags Kevin Mitchell with the punch that gave him control. Picture: Robert Perry
Ricky Burns tags Kevin Mitchell with the punch that gave him control. Picture: Robert Perry
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RICKY BURNS will pack his bags this morning for a well-earned holiday in Las Vegas. On the evidence of his scintillating performance at the SECC on Saturday night, it may only be a matter of time before he finds himself heading to the capital of world boxing on business.

In making the second defence of his WBO lightweight title with a devastating fourth round stoppage of Kevin Mitchell, the 29-year-old Scot spectacularly cemented his status as a genuinely world-class operator.

Beaten only once in his previous 34 fights, Mitchell was widely regarded as an acid test for Burns. But, instead of the evenly contested showdown so many in the trade had predicted, the English challenger proved no match at all for the man promoter Frank Warren now believes should be acclaimed as Britain’s leading pound-for-pound boxer.

“Ricky is undoubtedly the most improved boxer in Britain over the past 18 months,” said Warren, “and for me he is now the best boxer in Britain as well. He stepped up another level against Kevin. It was a fabulous performance and there are huge fights out there for Ricky now.”

The fights Burns wants are against the only two men ranked above him in Ring Magazine’s world lightweight ratings, the Mexican duo of Antonio 
DeMarco and Miguel Vazquez, who hold the rival WBC and IBF titles.

The fight he may get first of all could yet be against compatriot Scott Harrison, the former WBO featherweight champion who continued his comeback at lightweight with a six-round points win over journeyman Joe Elfidh, of Nottingham, on the SECC undercard.

Warren has pencilled in either 8 or 15 December for Burns’ next title defence, at a venue yet to be decided, and has not ruled out the possibility of Harrison as the opponent.

“It would be a monster fight for Scotland,” said Warren. “Scott needs to get more rounds under his belt and I’ll speak to him about that. He can fight again next week if he wants. We’ll need to see if he can do that before December. But, if Scott keeps out of trouble and behaves, then the fight can happen.”

Burns, whose career came full circle on Saturday after appearing as a rookie on Harrison undercards ten years ago, would prefer to start unifying the lightweight division but remains happy to fit in with Warren’s plans.

“Frank can tell me who I’m fighting and where,” said Burns. “I know Scott is itching to get another world title fight. It would be a massive fight in Scotland. We’ll hopefully find out more in the next few weeks. The Ring title is the belt I’ve always wanted and Frank knows that. I’d love to fight the other champions out there. I’ll have a couple of weeks off now, then be straight back into the gym and ready for whatever’s next.

“I’ll have my holiday next week in Las Vegas but my training stuff will be going with me. If Floyd Mayweather is around, I’d love to get some stuff signed by him and maybe even get a couple of rounds sparring with him while I’m there. Of course I would love to fight in Vegas one day.”

Burns has perfected the art of mixing business with pleasure, of scaling the heights in his chosen profession while remaining as grounded and likeable a sportsman as it is possible to meet.

The Coatbridge man’s gentle nature, however, does not prevent him from bringing a remarkable intensity to his work in the ring. Seldom has it been more ferocious than on Saturday in what was his most thrilling display since he dethroned Roman Martinez at the Kelvin Hall to become WBO super-featherweight champion two years ago.

Burns confounded expectations that he would be the more circumspect of the two protagonists and seek to simply outbox Mitchell. Instead, he was on the front foot from the first bell, beating Mitchell to the jab and bewildering the challenger with fluent combinations.

“I enjoyed myself out there,” said Burns. “In the first round, I was just trying to suss Kevin out. I felt the first rounds were close, they could have gone either way, but I knew once I put Kevin under pressure I could take control. When we got up close, I was just trying to smash the shots in the way I do in the gym. I’ve been feeling so much stronger physically in the build-up and I think it showed on the night.

“He has quick hands and he was looking for that left hook. He did actually catch me a couple of times but I’ve always said I don’t mind taking a shot to land one of my own. In the third round, I started to catch him with the right hand over the top.”

The three English judges had Burns 2-1 ahead after the first three rounds, 
although it was difficult to see which session they could make a case for Mitchell winning.

Burns took matters into his own hands in the fourth, flooring Mitchell for the first time with a sublime right-left combination. The Dagenham man staggered to his feet by the count of six, only to be flattened again by a stinging right hand. He rose bravely once more but was finally rescued on the ropes by referee Terry O’Connor with just a second of the round remaining as Burns trapped him on the ropes with a barrage of punches.

“When he went down the second time, I was thinking ‘do I go in to finish it off here or let him off the hook?’,” added Burns. “Because I didn’t know how much time was left in the round. But I threw all caution to the wind and went for it. The referee did the right thing to stop it because I wasn’t stopping punching.

“Everyone knows I can box, but I’m getting better and better with every fight now. I said Kevin would bring 
out the best in me and he did. There is still more to come. I’m getting more confident and getting stronger. Things are definitely coming together.”

Mitchell was gracious in defeat, deferring to his close friend’s superiority and predicting greater things to come for the champion.

“I’ve looked at the other world champions out there at lightweight, they are all good fighters but Ricky could beat any of them,” said Mitchell. “Everyone underestimates Ricky’s power but I knew he was physically strong. You don’t become a two-weight world champion if you can’t punch hard.

“My timing was off on the night, it just wasn’t there for me. There were times when I knew I should be countering him but just couldn’t do it. Ricky was brilliant, awesome. He was on form and he could have kept that up for 15 rounds if he needed to. He’s a great champion and I owe him a beer now.”

A memorable night of boxing in front of around 8,500 was briefly marred by some crowd disorder but the highly-charged atmosphere was generally channelled in a positive manner.

In the chief supporting contest, John Simpson, of Greenock, showed he still has much to offer at title level with an impressive second-round stoppage of Welsh opponent Dai Davies to retain his Celtic super-featherweight belt.

Harrison, meanwhile, got a raucous welcome from the crowd before running out a 60-53 points winner over late replacement opponent Elfidh. The 35-year-old Glaswegian put Elfidh down with a terrific left hook in the opener but his timing was not always so precise as he was forced to go the distance.

“It was just a workout, a six-round warm-up,” said Harrison. “That was just like a spar for me. I won every round. I’ll now keep myself in the gym until I get the world title fight.

“I’m definitely ready to fight for the title. Why not? I left at the top, I never got beat in the ring. You better believe I’ll be ready. Me and Ricky will be a brilliant fight for the country.”