By Terence Dooley
Scotland's WBO lightweight world champion Ricky Burns is still waiting on news of a venue and opponent for his July 1 fight. “Rickster” is set to make the third defence of the crown he won when beating Michael Katsidis on points for the interim belt in November of last year. Burns was awarded the full title shortly after the win over the Australian and defeated Paulus Moses by decision at Glasgow's Braehead Arena in March to move to 34-2 (9).
There have been persistent rumours of a showdown between the 29-year-old and Dagenham's Kevin Mitchell. However, Frank Warren, who handles both men, recently stated that Mitchell would have to be realistic when it comes to his purse demands for the world title tilt. Upton Park, where Mitchell was destroyed in three by Katsidis, has been mooted as a potential venue for the Scotland Vs. England showdown and would certainly suit Mitchell, who has a sizeable following in London's East End.
Burns is trained by Billy Nelson, the Glasgow-based coach is ready to put his man in with any of the world's top lightweights after witnessing Burns's dominant win over Moses. Not to mention the way the flower of Scotland has bloomed since defeating undefeated banger Roman Martinez for the WBO super featherweight crown in September 2010.
“That's the difference between world class and domestic level,” said Nelson when speaking to BoxingScene.com about Burns's display against Moses. “He has improved since beating Martinez because the confidence he took from beating him took Ricky to another level. Plus the victory, and manner of victory, over Katsidis gave him another boost.
“Before Ricky came to my gym he fought Arthur [Arthur] and [Carl] Johanneson in tough title fights [losing on points both times], that version of Ricky probably would have lost confidence when he was put down [by Martinez at the end of the first round]. I got him back to the corner and told him he'd won every second of that round apart from when he got caught at the end. He went from one point up to two down and I think it was important to say that to him at that moment in time because it got a reaction.”
Burns eventually became tired of dragging his 5' 10'' frame down to 130lbs, his single stanza TKO win over Nicky Cook in July of last year was his last outing at the weight. Nelson kept Burns's struggle to make weight a secret for years, but he revealed that they eventually reached a point where the champion was running the risk of running himself down in order to chisel those final few lbs away.
“It was very hard for him,” revealed Nelson. “We kept it under wraps because no stories leave my gym. It is a close-knit gym and I don't have too many fighters, so it all stays in the gym. Ricky is punching harder since moving up, definitely, but it is down to him keeping his speed because the shots that hurt you are the ones you don't see coming.
“The difference between Ricky and the other lightweights – especially in Britain – is Ricky's speed. People think he's a light puncher, but everyone who come up to spar him, and I'm talking the likes of [current European lightweight champion] Gavin Rees, said he was different class – they couldn't believe how good he is. I think Ricky is the best lightweight in the world.”
Juan Manuel Marquez was the division's true number one for a long time. Brandon Rios looked poised to take his mantle only to twice fail to make the lightweight limit against John Murray and Richard Abril respectively. “Bam Bam” shrugged these struggles off to beat Murray in 11 rounds at Madison Square Garden last December. Rios, though, almost came unstuck against Abril, losing nearly every round in the eyes of many before escaping with a split decision – scores of 116-112, 115-113 and 111-117, which was a fairer reflection of the fight. Rios looks destined to officially move to light-welterweght, scotching hopes of a meeting between Burns and the Californian.
“I don't Rios should be allowed to fight for the title again because he has let boxing down twice on the scales,” said Nelson. “Rios should haven't been rewarded last time with a chance to fight for the vacant WBA title, someone else should be given it, but if we had to then we'd fight him, no bother.”
As for the next opponent, Nelson welcomed the idea of a Mitchell fight. Although he was quick to point out that “Mighty” will have to take the short end of the purse if he is to secure a crack at Burns's crown. He said: “Kevin's a good fighter, but he doesn't beat Ricky – simple as that. Ricky beats him in every single department.”
He added: “If Kevin fancies it, then they both share the same promoter, so Kevin should pick up the phone and get the fight made. We've said we want the fight, he's turned it down twice and doesn't want it as far as I'm aware. Paulus Moses is a former world champion who had only been beaten once and of course he deserved more money than Kevin. I don't know what Moses got, but I am quite sure that Kevin wants more than that even though he doesn't deserve it.”
Mitchell had hoped to secure the Rios fight in December only for worries over his VISA – prompted by the 27-year-old's brushes with the law – to scupper the showdown and hand Murray, who lost to Mitchell in July, the opportunity instead. It was a real shame for the 33-1 (24) fighter as he had boxed out of his skin to rip Murray's '0' away after eight brutal rounds.
“You don't need a passport to come up to Scotland,” Nelson's take on Mitchell's stroke of misfortune. “Eventually, aye, we'd like Mitchell, if not next then the one after that because I'd like it to put this to bed. Moses was an excellent fighter, so why doesn't someone like Mitchell fight him in a final eliminator? People are forgetting as well that's there a boy called Gavin Rees, who in my opinion is the next best domestic lightweight, and I know Gavin's a good fighter. Ricky would beat him, but I think that's a better fight than Mitchell.”
Anthony Crolla was in the frame prior to Christmas. “Million Dollar” was a hot property due to his stunning KO of John Watson for the vacant British title last February. A decision win over Willie Limond on November 25 showcased the best of Crolla's boxing ability only for him to lose the belt to Liverpool's Derry Mathews in a six-round war on April 21. Both Crolla and Mathews are out of the Burns equation according to Nelson.
“I thought it was a fantastic fight for the fans, really exciting, but as a coach I think both trainers must have had their hearts in their mouths because in my opinion they were both one shot away from getting stopped,” he said. “Anthony was cut, had been put down and had bounced into the ropes, so the stoppage was fair. Derry looked very tired. That fight clarified the difference between world class and domestic level.”
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