Ricky Burns has eyes on Kiryl Relikh; Broner lingers
For a period of years, Ricky Burns just kept knocking the ball out of the park.
The Scotsman outpointed the heavily-favored Roman Martinez to claim the WBO junior lightweight title in 2010. Home run. He dominated feared Australian puncher Michael Katsidis in his lightweight debut in 2011. Home run. Kevin Mitchell ventured to Scotland for a domestic scrap and was battered to defeat inside four rounds in 2012. Home run.
Then the tide turned.
Raymundo Beltran broke Burns’ jaw before being denied victory by a contentious draw in 2013. Strike one. Terence Crawford was mandatory challenger and relieved the Scotsman of his WBO lightweight title in 2014. Strike two. Future WBC lightweight titleholder Dejan Zlaticanin claimed a split decision win over Burns later that year and, for many, closed the lid on the Coatbridge man’s career for good. Strike three.
Ironically, it would be another decision loss, to former WBC lightweight titleholder Omar Figueroa Jr., that signaled the return of Ricky Burns. He fought brilliantly against a significantly larger man; however ghastly officiating by Texas referee Laurence Cole and unkind scorecards deprived Burns of the acclaim he undoubtedly deserved. He lost the fight but made his mark.
“I’d taken a lot of stick from people who were saying I was finished and that I should hang up the gloves,” recalled Burns, who is rated No. 8 by THE RING at 140 pounds. “I wanted to prove to them, to my myself and to (trainer) Tony (Sims) that I could still do it because, I’ve always said, if I don’t have anything else to give, then I won’t be in boxing.
“I’m not going in there to take punches if I don’t need to and that’s still my attitude.”
Sometimes in boxing, you need a bit of luck and Burns was due some. Following two wins over undistinguished opposition, he was matched against former European champion Michele Di Rocco. It was a springboard to bigger fights. Burns trained like a man possessed and then came the golden ticket.
In April of this year, Adrien Broner (more on him later) weighed in over the junior welterweight limit of 140 pounds for a WBA title defense against Ashley Theophane. The contest went ahead and Broner won convincingly but the title was deemed vacant and opportunism beckoned. The WBA waved its magic wand and – Presto! – Burns-Di Rocco was upgraded to a full world title fight.
Now, Di Rocco wouldn’t make the Top 5 best opponents – maybe not even the Top 10 – of Burns’ illustrious career but many saw this as an even match going in. It was a turkey shoot. Burns (40-5-1, 14 KOs) looked sharper than he had in years, barely lost a minute of a round and came away with an eighth-round stoppage and a third world title in as many weight classes. He had made Scottish boxing history.
Next up for the rejuvenated Burns is a mandatory title defense against Kiryl Relikh (21-0, 19 KOs) which takes place this Friday at The SSE Hydro in Glasgow. The 26-year-old from Belarus is a relatively unknown quantity but he is clearly a puncher and has the full backing of his promoter and trainer, former two-division world champion, Ricky Hatton.
Burns said, “I’ve watched a few rounds of (Relikh) and he is a puncher who’s always looking for hooks but I’ve been in with so many big punchers and that doesn’t bother me. He’s never been over eight rounds and that goes in my favor.
“You need to respect the power because he’s been knocking everyone out but the level of opposition (hasn’t been high).”
This reporter reminded the defending titleholder that a green version of Zlaticanin had arrived in Scotland with an almost identical reputation, two years ago, and upset the odds. Undoubtedly half-cocked for that bout, Burns paid the price – badly.
“I can’t take any chances,” said Burns immediately. “I’ve been focused on this fight. We’ve been working on some new things and training has gone really well. Even though this is Relikh’s first big fight, we don’t know what kind of character he is. Once everyone clears out of the ring and it’s just me and him, we’ll find out.
“We know this is going to be a tough fight but I’m ready for a hard 12 rounds.”
Fans and media always look ahead in boxing but Burns, the fighter, habitually detests doing so. While understanding of the fact that reporters must quiz him about future plans, the Scotsman responds to such questions with genuine reluctance.
According to a recent Matchroom Boxing press release, distributed after this interview with Burns was conducted, a deal is close to being finalized for a bout against former four-division world titleholder Adrien Broner. Burns, who was linked to the brash American at 130 and 135 pounds, may finally cross swords with “About Billions” at 140.
“I don’t dodge anybody and I never have,” said Burns as though stating the obvious. “There was talk of the Broner fight happening in October but it fell through and we decided to go down the mandatory route. I’ve been told, though, that as long as I go out here and get the win, Broner is still an option.
“I know he’s dying for the fight and there have been other big names mentioned too. As long as I come through, I’m happy to go over there or, even better, it would be great to bring him over here.”
Providing the chips fall accordingly, rumor has it that Las Vegas could play host to the Burns-Broner bout and it is difficult to think of a matchup that brings together two more opposing personalities. Affable versus arrogant. Humble versus histrionic. Nice guy versus not-so-nice guy.
Kiryl Relikh, however, will be looking to destroy those plans as well as his Burns’ current championship reign.
The Burns-Relikh bout will be shown live and exclusively on Sky Sports 2 HD/ Sky Sports 2 from 8.00 p.m.
Tickets are on general sale now in the £40-£100 bracket from the SSE Hydro website http://www.thessehydro.com/ and on 0844 395 4000 and 0800 952 0110 (accessible). VIP tickets at £200 are exclusively available at www.matchroomboxing.com
Tom Gray is a U.K. Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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