Ricky Burns ready for battle in atmosphere of respect

CONTRARY to what promoters would like us to believe, especially in the build-up to major events, there is a deep pool of instinctive mutual respect among the majority of professional boxers.

Seldom has it been more evident than when WBO super-featherweight champion Ricky Burns and his challenger Andreas Evensen met at their final head-to-head media conference in Glasgow yesterday.

There was no trash talking, not a voice raised in anger as the two highly-personable and unfailingly courteous combatants fielded questions about the battle which will be joined in the Braehead Arena tomorrow night. Even the traditional face-to-face staredown for the photographers saw both men having to work hard to maintain a suitably grim demeanour.

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But, while the atmosphere inside the plush 29 restaurant at Royal Exchange Square was good-natured, it did not disguise the fierce desire within both champion and challenger to bring nothing less than a ruthless attitude to their work inside the ring.

"I've got respect for every opponent I fight," said Burns. "There is no personal animosity as far as I'm concerned. Everyone who has met Andreas in the build-up to this fight can see he is a really nice guy and everyone who knows me is aware that I'm not the type to bad-mouth anyone.

"But, when the first bell sounds, it's the signal for me to do my job and it's just a shame that it is Andreas who is going to have to bear the brunt of it on Saturday night. Whether it goes 12 rounds or whether it's by knockout, I'm leaving that ring with my belt."

Having won his world title in thrilling fashion as a lightly-regarded underdog against previously unbeaten Roman Martinez at the Kelvin Hall in September, Burns must now prove he is able to cope with the greater expectations upon him as a heavy odds-on favourite to overcome Evensen in his first defence.

"It won't make any difference to me," insisted the 27-year-old Scot. "I'll fight the same way as champion as I did as challenger. I don't feel as if there is any extra pressure on me. I always put enough pressure on myself to do well anyway."

Evensen, born in Colombia but a native of Norway where he has lived since being adopted as an infant, has lost just one of his 14 professional fights but is stepping up from the featherweight division to concede both height and reach advantage to Burns.

"That doesn't worry me at all," said the 24-year-old. "I've been sparring with welterweights and light-middleweights and I've fought plenty of taller opponents already in my career. So I'm used to that. It won't stop me doing what I need to do to win the fight.

"I'm excited about what is going to happen here on Saturday night. I'm not nervous and I'm ready to do my job.I'm prepared for all the home support Ricky will have in the arena. It won't be a problem for me. I know a lot of people back home in Norway are behind me and it's going to be an enjoyable night for them."

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Asked for his impressions of Burns, the grinning Evensen provided the closest thing we got to a verbal taunt.

"Well, I know what his record is and I've seen his fights on YouTube," said Evensen. "I also know he has a sausage named after him." A reference to the award-winning chip shop in his home town of Coatbridge which marked his world title triumph by unveiling the culinary delight of a "Chippy Champ" sausage, Burns took the gentle mocking in good part.

There was further brand recognition of him yesterday with the celebrated Glengoyne distillery naming a special edition 10-year-old malt in his honour. Not that Burns, all but a teetotaller, would toast a victory tomorrow by opening it.

"I'm told there is a venue booked for a celebration," he said, "but that kind of thing isn't for me. I'll just head home to see my mum, who doesn't like coming to my fights, and maybe pick up a McDonalds on the way."

The Braehead bill is set to be the centre of sporting attention in Scotland this weekend, although the adverse weather did prevent former British featherweight champion Paul Appleby, who faces Joseph Laryea of Ghana in the chief supporting contest, travelling from South Queensferry to yesterday's media conference. "There have been a few people panicking about whether the show will go ahead," said Burns, "but there's no problem on that score. People are going to see a cracking fight. My trainer Billy Nelson has come up with a perfect game-plan and, as long as I carry it out, I don't see how I can lose."