By Tris Dixon
WHEN Ricky Burns had his metaphorical blindfold removed on Saturday night, many a fighter’s worst nightmare stood before him.
He was faced with a tall, heavy-hitting southpaw, one who was comfortable in close and at range, one who selected the right shots at the appropriate moment and who used deft footwork that allowed him to use his physical attributes to control a fight.
Piecing together the Julius Indongo puzzle beforehand was not easy. We now know more. Ahead of their unification fight at Glasgow’s atmospheric Hydro, there was the 40-second highlight reel that showed Indongo destroying Russia’s Eduard Troyanovsky, and there were a couple of brief clips –?uploaded by the fighter himself on YouTube –?confirming what his bare statistics reveal, that he is a tall, awkward and rangy southpaw. But his record, including wins over Kaizer Mabuza and Zolani Marali, didn’t reveal his quality. And his age, 34, did not uncover how well preserved he could be. Ahead of the Burns fight, his trainer Nestor Tobias said his man could box for another five years.
That now sounds ominous for the other super-lightweights. We might not know much about how high his ring mileage is from the amateurs and pros, but he certainly didn’t look anything like a fighter capable of aging overnight in the near future. Not one bit. He’s also added the WBA super-lightweight crown to his IBF and IBO titles.
“The better man won, he was so awkward, he was a lot better than we thought and he can hit as well,” said Burns, Scotland’s first three-weight world champion.
The Scotsman’s trainer Tony Sims told today of how they had “taken the fight blind”.
“We didn’t have a clue what he was about,” Sims added.
The trainer was referring to the lack of tape available of the Namibian beforehand. Everyone had seen the one-round destruction of unbeaten Troyanovsky – all 40 seconds of it –?but there was very little else to go on. “There were another couple of rounds knocking about on YouTube but for Ricky it was all about the opportunity to unify the titles,” Sims explained.
“I never expected him [Indongo] to be that good, he could hit really hard with both hands, he was really good on his feet, really rangy and really fast. Ricky said he was getting buzzed by counters and said he had to be careful because he could be hurt or stopped at any time. But it wasn’t just that, it was the movement. He’s really good. Ricky just took the risk for a big reward. They weren’t blind like we were, there’s obviously loads of footage of Ricky but when fighters box on small hall shows with no TV it’s really hard [to do the homework]. We just felt that if Ricky had two belts then the next fight is massive.”
Burns might now be looking at a make or break catchweight fight with Manchester’s Anthony Crolla but the dominant talk is of what next for Indongo, and what he can go on to achieve.
“He will give anyone a hard fight, even [the division’s number one, Terence] Crawford,” Sims continued. “I think Crawford would beat him because I think he’s special, but it wouldn’t be an easy night for him. I think it’s only Crawford who can handle him at the moment.”
Of course, there are now 12 rounds of Indongo for anyone to view online. People will know a few more of his attributes, habits and capabilities. Coaches will be able to breakdown intricacies that were previously unavailable and tendencies that might have become ingrained in his 22 professional fights.
“You can see what it’s all about now,” Sims concluded, saying another of his boxers, Ohara Davies, may be ready for Indongo a year from now. “We were the guinea pigs.”
That’s a dubious honour, and while 30-0 WBC and WBO champion Crawford, who is 29 years old, won’t be shaking in his boots, he will be well aware that he’s in the sights of the division’s dangerman. Eddie Hearn has a promotional option on Indongo now, and the unified champion also owes mandatory challenger 12-0 Sergey Lipinets – managed by Al Haymon –?a title shot.
Largely unknown before, America could be a logical next step for the African. He’s clearly unafraid of travelling and he’s gained more respect, fame and notoriety in his two most recent bouts than he had in his entire 20-fight career beforehand.
“I feel very proud, I believe the whole country will get the whole day off,” said a jubilant Indongo.
“As a boxer in Namibia, we have to work three times harder than boxer in Europe or elsewhere because we are part-time boxers. We have full-time day jobs, and when we have big fights we have to leave to prepare. We are, however, very passionate about the sport of boxing, and that is why we put in the extra work. We are certainly among the greatest boxing nations of the world, seeing that we only have a population of approximately 2.3m people and already have produced four world champions.”
While Burns might have had the blindfold removed, the eyes of the division are now wide open and Crawford will, or should be, looking over his shoulder.