Ricky Burns ecstatic ahead of homecoming bout against Michele Di Rocco
On Monday, at the SSE Hydro Arena in Glasgow, Scotland, promoter Eddie Hearn officially announced that local hero Ricky Burns would fight on home soil for the first time in almost two years when he meets Michele Di Rocco in a junior welterweight attraction on May 28.
A Burns homecoming has been eagerly anticipated for some time and it is difficult to overstate how much the gutsy 32-year-old has meant to the Scottish boxing scene in recent years. The country has only produced 13 world champions in over a century and following the decline of Scott Harrison and Alex Arthur, was in dire need of a new ambassador.
Burns (39-5-1, 13 knockouts), to many, overachieved when he outpointed Roman Martinez to win the WBO junior lightweight title in Sept. 2010 but he was far from a one-hit-wonder. Another WBO strap at lightweight and solid wins over Michael Katsidis, Paulus Moses and Kevin Mitchell reduced the critics in a hurry.
There have been defeats, to Terence Crawford and Dejan Zlaticanin, as well as a contentious draw with Raymundo Beltran, but the amiable Burns has never lost hunger for the game and is ecstatic to be headlining at a swanky new venue which will be hosting it’s very first professional boxing event.
“I’m really looking forward to this fight and it’s going to be a special occasion,” said Burns when interviewed by RingTV.com. “I’ve got all the incentive in the world to perform in front of my own fans at the Hydro and I just can’t wait. The response has been massive and it’s going to be a great night.
“I’m just glad to be home because it’s been almost two years since I had a fight in Scotland. (Promoter) Eddie (Hearn) always said we’d come back but the fight had to make sense. Now we’ve got the chance and I’m really excited about this one.”
The event will be marketed as a Ricky Burns show but the proud Scotsman has not been allocated an easy assignment. The 33-year-old Di Rocco (40-1-1, 18 KOs) is a former European champion at 140 pounds, natural at the weight and could present real problems.
“We’ve watched a couple of his fights and he’s definitely a tough opponent,” said Burns of the Italian veteran who turned professional in 2004. “Di Rocco is a good boxer, he can punch a bit and he’s not lost a fight in over eight years. That speaks volumes.
“I know that I need to give it 100 per cent in training and 100 per cent on the night. I’m making sure that I win this and there’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. I’ve took some stick over the last two years and it’s time to put all of that to bed.”
The Burns-Di Rocco bout will be contested for the vacant WBA “regular” strap, which is unrecognized by THE RING. On April 1, in Washington D.C. WBA junior welterweight titleholder Adrien Broner defends against Ashley Theophane and, in a proposed bid to discard their secondary title belts, the WBA will order the winners to meet later in 2016.
“There was talk of Broner and I fighting at 130 and 135 a few years ago,” recalled Burns. “Realistically, I have to beat Di Rocco first and Broner has a very tough fight coming up against Ashley Theophane. I’ve done plenty of sparring with Ashley and Broner will have his hands full that night.
“Right now, it’s important to concentrate solely on the job I have in front of me. I can still make lightweight comfortably but there are big fights for me at junior welterweight and I can’t ignore that.”
Burns was well inside the lightweight limit at 133.5 pounds when he knocked out Australian Josh King in 11 rounds last November. However, the Scotsman can mix it at 140 pounds, as evidenced in his heroic stand against the much larger Omar Figueroa, who defeated him on points last year.
Despite Di Rocco also being naturally bigger, Burns still refused to rule out a tear up.
“We’re of the impression that this could be a toe-to-toe battle,” laughed the former two-weight world titleholder. “My trainer (Tony Sims) and I have been working on a few different things and, although Di Rocco is a good opponent, this is a very winnable fight for me. If he wants to go to-to-toe then I’m not the type to back down from that.
“This is going to be the hardest training camp I’ve ever had and I’m determined to win this fight.”
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Gray_Boxing.