By Nick Halling
Darren Barker’s first defence of his IBF middleweight title looks likely to come against former WBA title holder Felix Sturm in London in December. Barker’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, will be having discussions with Sturm’s connections later this week.
“Potentially, we’re looking at 7th December, and its a fight we’d very much like to bring to London,” said Hearn. “It is a 75/25 split in the champion’s favour, and I have no doubt that they will come up with a very tempting offer to make the fight in Germany. If that happens, we’d consider it, but I think we can bring it to London.” Wembley or Alexandra Palace are the likely venue options.
The December bill in London could also feature Lee Selby’s challenge for the European featherweight title against the Ukrainian Oleg Yefimovych. Purse bids are due by 23rd September. However, Selby must first defend his British and Commonwealth titles against Ryan Walsh next month, when he hopes to win a Lonsdale belt outright.
“We’ll have to see how that goes,” said Hearn, “but all being well, we’ll try and get Selby and Yefimovych either on the Froch/Groves undercard in November, or possibly as chief support to Barker/Sturm.”
As if becoming a father last Thursday wasn’t sufficient incentive, Ricky Burns can also earn a place in Scottish boxing history should he successfully defend his WBO lightweight title against Raymundo Beltran in Glasgow on Saturday night.
Victory would represent Burns’ ninth successful world title fight, equalling the record of his compatriot Scott Harrison, whose reign as WBO featherweight king lasted from June 2002 to November 2005. “It’s not something he’s aware of yet, but I’ll make sure he knows about it,” said Burns’ trainer, Billy Nelson. “It will definitely give him a boost.”
Nelson is confident that normal service will be resumed against Beltran, following the scare against Puerto Rican stylist Jose Gonzalez in May. Well behind on the cards at the half-way point, a sluggish Burns survived a torrid seventh round as Gonzalez went for the finish, then showed considerable fortitude to force the Puerto Rican to quit on his stool two rounds later.
However, it had been a flat performance. Nelson is not expecting a repeat this weekend. “It was a case of overtraining, simple as that,” he explained. “With one thing and another, he’d effectively been non-stop in the gym for eight months, and that’s not good. He basically left it in the gym, but still showed great character to turn it around.”
Burns has looked sharp in the buildup to the contest, with quality sparring with the likes of hot prospect Scotty Cardle and former British super featherweight champion Gary Sykes. “I took him on the pads last week, and some of his work was just a blur,” said Nelson. “It was as fast as I’ve ever seen him punch. Gary Sykes, who’s no slouch himself, said it was like a storm coming towards him, just unbelievable.”
Speed may well be the key to this fight, and if Nelson is right, it’s something the 32-year-old Arizona-based Mexican may struggle with. “He’s strong, but he likes to dictate things, and he wont be able to do that against Ricky,” said Nelson. “Burns is just so much quicker than Beltran. He’ll be feeling his years by half way, and I’d expect a stoppage in the second half of the fight. The speed Ricky is generating right now would give any lightweight in the world a hard time, it’s frightening.”
The ultra-professional Burns barely took a break following the birth of his son, being back on the pads next day. Quality family time is on the agenda once Beltran has been disposed of. “We’re taking it one fight at a time, as we always do,” said Nelson, “but there’s a lot more to come from Ricky Burns.”
One man perfectly placed to run the rule over Burns and Beltran is Lytham-based lightweight Scotty Cardle. The unbeaten young prospect sparred Beltran at the Wild Card gym in LA last year, and also spent a week sparring with Burns in preparation for Saturday’s contest.
“When I first went in with Beltran, I was shocked by his power,” said Cardle. “We’re in the same division, but it was like boxing someone two weights above me. He’s a very strong guy. He’s no mug, definitely world class.”
Cardle believes that it will be a difficult fight for Burns, but expects the defending champion to come through it. “If they take Beltran lightly, they’ll be in trouble, but I didn’t get the feeling that they were underestimating him,” he said of his week at Burns’s Glasgow camp. “I had a great spar with Ricky, but it was non-stop all the way, relentless. Obviously I’m not at his level, but his power when he comes in is really special. I tried everything I knew, but I just couldn’t push him back. Ricky’s got the fitness, the stamina, everything he needs to stay on top of Beltran. He’ll break his heart.”
Cardle boxes on the undercard in Glasgow, an eight rounder against another young prospect, Gary Fox. “I’ve watched him a few times and I won’t underestimate him,” he said. “Technically he’s not as good as me, but he’s very strong, and this is a big stage for him. He’ll want to step up, and I cant let that happen.”
A professional for 18 months, the accomplished amateur has a perfect 11-fight record to his name, and won the English lightweight title in his last contest, a gritty 10-round struggle past a determined Maxi Hughes in April. “I’ve had a good rest, and I hope this will be a big year for me. I’d like to win the English title by Christmas, then hopefully be ready for the British title this time next year. But I’m in a talented division, and there’s no rush. I’m stepping up nicely, and am very happy with the way my career is developing.”
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports