By Nick Halling
It’s never wise to plan too far ahead, but there is a very good chance that 2014 could see a unification fight in the super-bantamweight division between WBA regular champion Scott Quigg and IBF boss Kiko Martinez.
Quigg and his trainer Joe Gallagher were ringside in Spain last Saturday where Martinez successfully defended his title against Jeffrey Mathebula, and Gallagher, for one, was more than impressed.
“That was the best Kiko Martinez I’ve ever seen,” he said. “He looked so much better than when he lost to Carl Frampton (in February 2013). He didn’t waste his work, his punches were strong and varied, and he stuck to a very well thought-out gameplan. Winning the title has obviously brought him along a lot.”
Informal discussions were held with both parties in a cordial, respectful atmosphere. “We spoke to Kiko himself and his people. We all got along very well, and certainly his people are up for it. It would be a great unification fight,” said Gallagher.
If Gallagher gets his way, it is a fight which could happen in the summer at Gigg Lane, the home of Bury Football Club (Quigg is a passionate supporter). That would be a sellout for certain, but there are other options available too. Kiko is looked after by his namesake Sergio Martinez, and won his title against Jonatan Romero in Atlantic City under the Maravilla promotional banner. Gallagher has been known for some time to be keen on some American exposure for his fighter.
Even with both parties seemingly happy to progress with a potential unification match, there are hurdles to be overcome first. In Quigg’s case, this means his mandatory, Nehomar Cermeno. The Panamanian won the WBA interim title in August, and is on deck to face Quigg next.
The Bury boxer looks set for a busy 2014, to say the least, with Gallagher hoping to get his man out four times in the next 12 months. “I just want to keep him going because he is such a happy fighter in the gym right now,” said Gallagher.
“He’s got his mandatory to deal with, and of course Kiko is on our radar. But there are other good fights to be made too. (WBC title holder Leo) Santa Cruz and (former WBO and IBF champion Nonito) Donaire are on the list too. We’d like to be able to face them by the end of the next year.
“This time last year, Scott was dreaming about the chance of winning a world title. If everything falls into place, he could have two or three titles this time next year.”
And what of Guillermo Rigondeaux, the brilliantly-gifted Cuban who is widely recognised as the best super-bantam in the game right now? Rigondeaux is the WBA’s “super” champion, and no-one appears in a rush to take him on.
“I think everyone acknowledges that Rigondeaux is on another planet, talent-wise. I think even Floyd Mayweather would think twice about going in with him,” admitted Gallagher. “But we’ve spoken to Gary Hyde (the Cuban’s manager) about facing Rigondeaux down the line, and Gary has his own plans for his boxer. But sooner or later we hope that one would happen. We’re not scared of him, but all in good time for that one.”
Gallagher is certainly thinking big, and his boxer certainly boasts the talent to mix in such elite company. However, boxing politics is a dirty game, and the chances of Quigg meeting Martinez, Santa Cruz and Donaire, before going into a megafight with Rigondeaux would draw improbably long odds.
However, if the path can be taken one step at a time, then things could get interesting. If Quigg gets past Cermeno in the spring, and adds a second belt at the expense of Martinez in the summer, he would go into September negotiations as one of the most bankable operators in a talent-laden division.
The four week delay to the proposed meeting between Ricky Burns and Terence Crawford should be good news for the Scottish WBO lightweight belt-holder.
Burns endured a year to forget in 2013, coming from a long way behind to halt Jesus Gonzalez, then getting a generous draw against Ray Beltran in September. His belt intact, but his reputation seriously compromised, Burns has had to spend the last few months sitting on the sidelines waiting for the fractured jaw he sustained against Beltran to heal – so any delay, even of only four weeks, should be beneficial to the recovery process.
Medical clearance for him to resume sparring was granted earlier this month, and Burns’s long-time trainer, Billy Nelson, has mapped out a plan for the training camp in preparation for unbeaten American prospect Crawford.
“The intention is to bring in four top, top quality sparring partners for Ricky to work with,” said Nelson. This may well include international, championship-level boxers, as well as two from the same south-of-the-border gym.
Nelson has targeted former sparring partner Martin J Ward (an unbeaten but as yet untested 22-year-old talent) and former two-time world title challenger Kevin Mitchell, who Burns beat in a defence of his title last year.
Both boxers operate from the same Essex gym run by Tony Sims, who guided Darren Barker to the IBF middleweight crown.
“Ideally, I’d like to be able to go down to Tony’s gym to spar with Martin and Kevin, as that would help break the camp up,” said Nelson. “We’ve worked with Martin before, and he’s done an excellent job. And Kevin is probably about the only lightweight in the country capable of giving Ricky a really good spar.”
Burns received unfair criticism following the Beltran verdict – which most people accepted was a shocker – when he should have drawn praise for the bravery of boxing with a broken jaw. “Dont get me wrong, it was a close decision, and you’d certainly be aggrieved if you were Beltran,” admitted Nelson. “But if he hadn’t sustained that injury, he’d have outclassed the guy.”
Nelson seems unruffled by Crawford’s burgeoning reputation too, and expects to see Burns back to his best. “After the year he’s had, he’s just dying to get the gloves back on,” said the trainer. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he goes out and does a number on this guy. On his night, Ricky is better than any lightweight in the world.”
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.Tags: Ricky Burns , Kiko Martinez , Scott Quigg , Terence Crawford , Burns-Crawford , Burns vs. Crawford