Boxing: Burns braves Katsidis brawl to claim crown

 

Wembley Arena

Scotland's Ricky Burns produced enough sparkle to win his bonfire night battle with the Australian banger Michael Katsidis and claim the World Boxing Organisation interim lightweight title in a rousing scrap last night.

It was a bravura performance from the Glaswegian, although the scoring in the unanimous points decision (117-112 from the British judge and 117-111 according to those from the United States and Belgium) seemed a trifle generous.

The weight-troubled Burns, 28, had given up his WBO super-featherweight title to take a huge risk against an opponent known as the "Brit Basher" because of his two previous conquests here. But two subsequent defeats against world-class opposition seemed to have taken some of the sting out of Katsidis, who knows only one way to fight, going forward with both fists blazing.

"For some reason my fights always turn into a brawl," he had said before this contest. Indeed this turned out to be a classic boxer-brawler duel with Burns having to stave off the constant aggression from Katsidis, not always successfully. But he won because his punches were crisper and cleaner, mixing a jolting left jab with a chopping right hand.

The last round was a frenetic affair that had the crowd on their feet. Burns now becomes only the second Scot in 20 years to win titles in two weight divisions. While the bout was for the interim WBO title, it is likely that Burns will soon be declared the full champion as Juan Manuel Marquez, the official holder, faces Manny Pacquiao at welterweight next Saturday and is likely to relinquish the belt.

As for Katsidis, always a full-on fighter, at 31 he may have to consider that his career is coming to a close.

Fresh from his controversial conquest of bitter rival James DeGale in May, unbeaten Londoner George Groves produced two stunning right hands to stop Liverpool's Paul Smith in two rounds and retain his British and Commonwealth super middleweight titles. It was another piece of one-upmanship for the likeable Groves as DeGale had needed nine rounds to halt Smith last year.

David Haye, who was in Groves' corner, had warned his protégé that Smith, 29, might be a tougher opponent than DeGale, and when Groves was caught flush on the jaw by a right hand as the bell sounded at the end of the first, it seemed this might be the case.

But in the second Groves returned the compliment in style, flooring Smith with a cracking right to the jaw for a count of eight and following up with another which caused referee Victor Loughlan to step in immediately.

Smith complained at the stoppage but significantly collapsed into the referee's arms as he did so. There is every chance that Groves will get a world title shot next year which doubtless will be a prelude to a further meeting with DeGale who, since losing to him, has acquired the European title.

Former Olympian Billy Joe Saunders acquired his first championship in his 11th professional fight, taking the Southern Area middleweight title, but he was made to work hard for it by the tough and resilient defending champion Gary Boulden.

Saunders, 22, the traveller-fighter from Hatfield known as the "Caravan Kid", won a 10-round points decision 99-92, losing only one round, against an opponent who gamely took his lumps but kept firing back. The 25-year-old was close to being stopped in the last round but gallantly clung on to gain much credit.

Saunders' namesake and former fellow Olympian from Beijing, welterweight Bradley Saunders, has now joined him in the Frank Warren stable after losing his place in the GB squad for the London Games.

Sad news came out of the United States last night when it was revealed that Joe Frazier, the 67-year-old former world heavyweight champion and the first man to beat Muhammad Ali, is seriously ill in a Philadelphia hospice, having been diagnosed with liver cancer several weeks ago. He and Ali fought three times, the last – the "Thrilla in Manila" – being one of the greatest heavyweight title fights.

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