By Shaun Brown
Scottish boxing faces some make or break moments in the coming months and it begins on Friday night when Ricky Burns 36-3-1 (11) returns in his first non-world title fight, for four years, at the Braehead Arena in Glasgow against the unbeaten southpaw, Dejan Zlaticanin 18-0 (13).
Burns has been carrying the flag admirably for the sport in Scotland but after nine fights at full world title level which has included seven wins, one draw and one loss, the last act in the career of ‘Rickster’ is now underway.
A win against the unknown Montenegrin will set up a WBC final eliminator in October for Burns or perhaps a shot at becoming a three-time world champion against current green belt holder, Omar Figueroa or his next rumoured challenger Jorge Linares.
Burns, 30, has endured torridness of various types in his last three fights against Jose Gonzalez, Ray Beltran and when losing his WBO world lightweight title to the technically superior Terence Crawford in March of this year. Eddie Hearn, who has promoted the quiet Scot since his split from Frank Warren in 2013 is confident in Burns landing another world title but is also looking for his fighting compatriots to step up to the plate and continue the atmospheric nights in Scotland.
“We’ve been looking out for someone to stand up and be counted in Scottish boxing and it’s a great opportunity for someone on Friday night. Now is the time, and that means (cruiserweight) Stephen Simmons and (lightweight) Willie Limond on Friday but that means preparing (featherweight) Jon Slowey, (super featherweight) Michael Roberts and (middleweight) David Brophy to do the same,” said Hearn.
And the Matchroom Boxing supremo said that a win for Simmons could turn him into a household name.
“Camacho vs Simmons is a fight that whilst both don’t carry a British or European belt it’s the kind of profile fight that the winner can go on to establish himself in the division. If Simmons can stand up and be counted on Friday he’s got a great chance to establish himself as the future for Scottish boxing and that in itself is a huge opportunity. I think Simmons has been the kind of guy that has a lot of potential, has a great set-up with (trainer) Danny Vaughan and he needs that break out fight and this is that break out fight. And don’t forget he’s from Edinburgh as well, although we’re always in Glasgow there’s always the ability to switch to a fight in Edinburgh and it’s not something we rule out.
“Our plans are for the long-term not the short-term in Scotland. It’s a long-term plan when you go somewhere that embraces what you’re doing and gives you back passion. So from our promoter perspective and a TV perspective it’s somewhere you want to return to. If Ricky Burns was to lose on Friday, I mean he’s coming back from a string of performances where he hasn’t looked the best and now an 18-0 southpaw who’s pretty tough and could win but win, lose or draw it’s not the end for us in Scotland. If he wasn’t to win, Scottish boxing would need a flag bearer, we’d actually need a flag bearer and Ricky would be the chief support. Ricky would fight again I’m sure.”
In the early noughties, a much younger and less physically developed Burns found himself in the position that the likes of Brophy, Roberts and Slowey find themselves now. Fighting on big world title bills in front of partisan and sell-out crowds waiting on the one fight that changes careers forever. In his 14th professional contest, Burns challenged Alex Arthur for his European, British and Commonwealth super featherweight titles.
It was a night when east met west in Scotland, a night when Burns won admirers and respect but Arthur kept the titles. A conclusive loss three fights later to then British super featherweight champion, Carl Johanneson, did not deter the blonde and tattooed Burns who then went on to defy the odds against Roman Martinez in a pulsating war to take the Puerto Rican’s WBO world title at 126lbs back in 2010. Hearn wants the trio of Brophy, Slowey and Roberts to take a chance and make a move now.
“Post-Ricky Burns or current-Ricky Burns you always need talent filtering through,” said Hearn. “Because Ricky’s done so much it’s going to take something special to eclipse it or to become more popular than it.”
“One thing that Scots fighters need to do more of is take more chances. I’m not talking about Simmons… he’s up for it now but when I first come on board I think there was a reluctance for him to take the bigger fights. I’m talking more about the likes of Brophy, Slowey and Roberts. All talented fighters but people are afraid for the train to derail in Scotland.
"You never want a prospect to get beat but there comes a time where the fighters have to jump into big fights. Brophy, Roberts and Slowey will need to move into those bigger fights. When you talk about Scottish boxing; well if Simmons loses maybe Jon Slowey fights (British and Commowealth featherweight champion) Josh Warrington up in Scotland or Michael Roberts fights someone or David Brophy fights someone in an eliminator for the British middleweight belt against Tobias Webb or Eamonn O’Kane. These fights can always be made but I think now is the time for these fighters to rise up.”
Please send news and views to email@example.com or @shaun_brown on Twitter.