Ricky Burns set for Scotland’s first ever unification fight
GLASGOW, Scotland – Ricky Burns knows how to suffer.
Over a two-year period, the warrior Scotsman hit every road block imaginable: a broken jaw in his contentious draw with Raymundo Beltran, a world title defeat to Terence Crawford, a shock defeat to Dejan Zlaticanin, horrible officiating in a loss to an overweight Omar Figueroa Jr., as well as a costly legal battle with his former promoter Frank Warren.
The 33-year-old veteran’s athletic obituary has been penned countless times but, as they say, you can’t keep a good man down. Burns (41-5-1, 14 knockouts) stopped Michele Di Rocco in May of last year to capture the vacant WBA junior welterweight title and will now take part in the first ever unification bout to be staged on Scottish soil. Today, at the Marriott Hotel, it was officially announced that Burns will square off against IBF counterpart Julius Indongo on April 15 at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this journey has not been an easy one. Burns had plenty of suffering to do in his first title defense last October. Kiryl Relikh was an unbeaten pressure-puncher from Belarus, who was trained by former two-division world champion Ricky Hatton. The challenger had certainly inherited his coach’s tenacity and guts because he gave Burns hell on earth before dropping a 12-round unanimous decision.
“It was one of those fights where you can’t move properly for days afterwards,” laughed Burns, who could amazingly see the funny side of what became a torturous ordeal.
“Relikh caught me with a good shot in the second round and I thought he’d perforated my ear drum. The doctor checked it out after the fight, though, and said everything was OK. The next day, I was out at a restaurant and I was getting shooting pains in my ear. Suddenly, my wife noticed blood running down my neck. We went straight to the hospital and were told it had been a buildup of pressure that caused the bleeding. I’ve had burst ear drums in the past but this was the first time there was any blood.
Burns continued, “Two days after that, I was having pain in my kidney. This was on the Tuesday and I was back in the hospital again having tests. They said they’d get back to be on the Friday but the pain was so severe that I couldn’t wait that long. I had to go back into hospital and they administered morphine and ran tests straight away. There was talk that it was kidney stones or maybe damage from the fight but all the tests came back negative.”
The next time you hear someone say that fighters get paid too much money, enlighten them.
Burns could have been forgiven for taking a soft touch but he was having none of it. His two options were a matchup with the recently-retired Paulie Malignaggi or a unification clash with Indongo.
Malignaggi, despite being past his best, would have brought name recognition and a very good payday. Burns, however, opted for shorter money and a far more dangerous assignment. The unbeaten Indongo, who hails from Namibia, is a hard-hitting southpaw who won his title last December by knocking out the previously unbeaten Eduardo Troyanovski in less than one minute of action.
“I’m not going to lie; this is a very hard fight,” said Burns, who is rated No. 4 by THE RING at 140 pounds. “It’s the reward at the end of it that motivates me though – that IBF title. Indongo has had 21 wins with 11 knockouts, so he can bomb a bit. The thing is, what happened to Troyanovski can happen to anyone. He just went out there and got caught cold by a good shot. I just need to make sure that doesn’t happen to me.
“We’ve been working on a few different things in training camp. I like to go out there and set a fast pace and I want to make things as uncomfortable as possible for Indongo. We want to see how he deals with being taken into the late stages of a fight. I’m handling southpaws in training a lot better than I did before and I’ve been letting my shots go in sparring. We’re confident of getting the job done.”
Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn had expected Burns to opt for the Malignaggi fight. However, when the three-division titleholder went the other way, the promoter quickly realized that there was little point in trying to change his mind.
“I’m a little nervous about the fight but this is Ricky Burns,” Hearn told RingTV.com. “I get nervous when the fighter hasn’t been in at the deep end but Ricky has been there many times. This is an amazing opportunity for him to unify, not at junior lightweight, not at lightweight, but at junior welterweight where he has now settled. Both Ricky and Indongo had the opportunity to have bigger fights but they are both looking at each other and saying, ‘I can beat him’. They both want to unify. That’s the pot of gold and that’s what sells this fight.
“With a fighter like Indongo, normally you would say that he might fold coming into someone’s backyard with the pressure and the crowd. Then you remember that he went over to Russia and knocked out Troyanovski in 40 seconds. On that basis, this is a 50/50 fight. Ricky is the favorite on paper but Indongo is a danger man and all the questions on just how dangerous he is will be answered on April 15. It’s a fascinating fight.”
Burns doesn’t like to look ahead and he lets that be known. There could be some suffering against Indongo and he knows it. When pressed on the future, however, Burns was only going to mention one man.
“If things went well for me in this fight then (Terence) Crawford is the biggest name in the division,” acknowledged Burns, who lost a 12-round unanimous decision to the American in March 2014. “He holds the WBC, the WBO and THE RING belt, so, if it’s up to me, 100 percent that would be my choice. I’ve always said that I am prepared to fight anybody they put in front of me. If I’m given the option to fight Crawford, then you know what I’m going to say.
“I’ve got a few years left in me yet. I’ve always said that I’ll keep fighting, providing I’m not taking too many punches. I wouldn’t continue in the sport, if I was coming out of every fight with my face in a mess. Even if I was taking too many shots in sparring, I wouldn’t be doing this. I’ve got plenty left and the main priority is to be standing in the ring with those belts on April 15.”
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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