There are times when a small country like Scotland can dignify its own boasts by example. Wha’s like us, we proclaim. Damn few and they’re aw deid we respond to our own question. It is a boast that needs little by way of translation and it serves us well.
Then along comes a sporting icon, the like of which we have never had; nor have the infrastructure to create them and we start to believe our own boast. Andy Murray is a case in point. Sitting as he does at the top of the tennis world, we Scots shake our head in puzzlement at how someone who hits balls very fast in the sunshine for a living would come from a country that is far too cold for such frivolity.
Of course, Murray’s success is complex and is mainly down to the fact that Murray did not create his own legacy whilst working, living and developing in Scotland. For him to gather the pace and thus the success that he has, required a more focussed, nay foreign approach. His mother, Judy, took him to Spain and he became the superstar from there as the facilities in the UK were shockingly poor by comparison.
There is a similarity in how The Rickster, Ricky Burns, 41-5-1, 14 KO’s, has developed as he too has moved away from his home to become the World Champion he is now. The similarities, though, end there.
Ricky had already been a world champion whilst being trained by the gruff looking and highly regarded trainer, Billy Nelson in his native Coatbridge. A couple of serious losses under Nelson’s tutelage and a high-profile, unrelated court case with Frank Warren, alongside bankruptcy focussed Burns’ mind and he made the heart rending decision to end his association with Nelson; the guy who guided Burns to the top. Though, to be fair, Burns had done this before and Nelson had been a replacement for Burns’ original trainer.
This split was much more serious and therefore significant. The time had come for this modest and highly thought after fighter to spread his wings and fly. Like many birds from the Northern Hemisphere, Burns flew south. Ending up at Tony Sims’ gym in 2014 he has now trained with another well regarded trainer for a little over 3 years.
Some commentators suggested it was not a hugely successful move for Burns when he lost in Texas in 2015. Such a loss could have proven a distraction but not for Burns; not a bit of it as he sought to come out – literally – fighting to regain his world level status. That status was then elevated beyond the worldly when he came home to Glasgow and won a third weight world title; making him a unique Scottish boxer – the first 3 weight world champion we have ever produced. He had been the WBO super featherweight champion, the WBO lightweight champ and now was the WBA super lightweight King; Burns reigns supreme – at least in Scotland.
On April, the 15th this year, the title goes back on the line, as he takes on the dangerous and tricky Julius Indongo, 21-0, 11 KO’s. The faithful in Scotland believe in Burns but there are some of us who are hopeful but unsure of whether this may be the one time that hope is just not enough.
This time round it is a bit of a dream for Burns as it would mean his WBA belt could have company on his mantelpiece as Indongo brings the IBF and IBO belts. It led Ricky to refuse easier contests – including in against Paulie Malignaggi – to focus and concentrate on a fight many of us hope he shall come through. It would mean a very first loss for Indongo but Ricky is far from cowed. After all, in his last fight, against Kiryl Relikh, he faced and beat an undefeated foe. Burns has never shied away from any fight though there are plenty who hoped he would have chosen an easier pathway.
Namibian Indongo, unknown to Scottish fight fans until he was mentioned as an opponent of our firm favorite, comes with a bit of a reputation as he took only 40 seconds to win those 2 belts. That he did so whilst away from home, in Russia, will cause some hearts to flutter even more.
Burns’ career has had plenty of lows outside the ring but a few inside it too. From making his debut in 2001 we have been on something of a rollercoaster with The Rickster since then. The highs have included beating the much-fancied Graham Earl in 2005 in his first fight in England, the 2008 winning of the Commonwealth belt against Osumana Akaba and the defences. There were the world title wins too but along with those incredible highs, there have been equally seriously, the world level losses.
Those include losing to fellow Scot Alex Arthur who was the British, European and Commonwealth champion at the time. It has to be said though that at the tender age of 22 Burns learnt more in that fight than before and was tipped by Arthur, after the final bell, as a future world champion. Burns also lost a British title fight a year later to Carl Johanneson but the fights that took us the wrong direction for a while were far more recent.
Perhaps in 2013 against Jose Gonzalez we saw what was ahead of Burns. Gonzalez outboxed Ricky for 6 rounds, hurt him in the 7th and then Burns rallied before he forced Gonzalez to retire in the 10th; it was a luck escape.
Burns then went in against Raymundo Beltran and retained his belt with a scandalous draw; Burns had broken his jaw in the 2nd round but kept fighting.
The WBO stepped in with his next fight – Terence Crawford. All the luck he might have had disappeared in the face of a truly great opponent as Crawford won on points in Glasgow. It was heartbreak for Ricky – a loss in front of a very loyal home crowd.
During this time his court case and fight against Frank Warren was brewing so distractions there were aplenty, though none of them crossed Ricky’s lips as excuses.
Worse was to follow.
Dejan Zlaticanin came to Glasgow and beat Burns. Burns was so distraught he would not face the press afterwards.
Eddie Hearn, now Burns’ promoter, moved the whole Burns circus to Leeds and Ricky won a make or break encounter with Alexandre Lepelley.
Burns then headed to Texas in 2015, for that supposed ill-fated loss in controversial circumstances to Omar Figueroa Jr. It was a curious thing, though a loss it propelled Ricky Burns back into contention.
2016 was the year in which Burns then made history by beating Michelle Di Rocco, back in Glasgow, for the WBA light welterweight title. His first defence, once more in Glasgow, was against Ricky Hatton trained Kiryl Relikh. It was a night of great celebration.
And now we are here.
It is not an easy night for a man many think has over achieved in the world of boxing. A combination of good fortune and skilful matchmaking means that Burns has another shot at glory. He is aware of how difficult the 15th April shall be, but nobody – and we mean nobody – shall stop him from fighting for his goal. After all he has another dream – the Las Vegas fight. After that shall he retire? Well first of all, he has to get a Las Vegas fight. And before that he needs to unify those belts. 15th April, Glasgow, Burns night again IN Scotland?Contact the Feature Writers