In a night of contrasts on Saturday in Glasgow, Ricky Burns left the ring with a severely broken jaw, his WBO lightweight title in his hands and the knowledge that he had just been on the right end of a terrible hometown decision.
The official loser on a night of infamy for British boxing was Mexican Raymundo Beltran, a veteran of quality fights and quality sparring over the years, who behaved impeccably when his public mugging was announced to the crowd at the SECC. The Scottish fans knew, Burns knew and even some of Sky’s team in attendance knew that Beltran had given Burns a boxing lesson.
The three men at ringside were divided in their opinion, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but on Saturday perhaps it was the crowd’s emotion and the guts that Burns displayed which created the travesty and influenced their thinking.
One judge went for Burns, one for Beltran and one opted for a draw, which means that Burns keeps his title; I would be shocked if two of the three do not hold their hands up in the coming days and admit that they simply got it wrong.
The broken jaw is a painful but convenient excuse for what was, long before any of Beltran’s short left hooks connected, a poor performance from Burns. The very real danger is that the deficiencies are ignored, overtaken by a relentless stream of soundbites declaring the 30-year-old a warrior for fighting on with such a grotesque and painful injury. It is what real fighters do and Burns is real.
The Scot, for so long a low-key operator in the boxing business, entered the ring to feverish applause and looked every bit the local hero recently dubbed his country’s finest ever boxer by his hyperbolic promoter Eddie Hearn. However, Burns looked dry, drawn and hugely apprehensive during ring announcer Michael Buffer’s preliminaries.
The men in his team have denied that making weight is an issue, which seems slightly disingenuous, and if true there is a very real possibility that – after nine consecutive world-title fights – Burns is simply exhausted.
He is brutal in the gym, relentless in his preparation, which allows him to still eat junk food, and meticulous in his choice of sparring partners. On Saturday night his methods were gently exposed by a smart fighter, who never looked troubled at any point, which is the most disturbing aspect of a night that will be overshadowed by the bad decision and the broken jaw.
The harsh truth is that Burns was regularly off balance, his punches either too short, too long or too wide and his general ring craft looked pathetic up against Beltran’s effortless slickness. Burns is a better fighter than the one-dimensional man that was exposed by the Mexican and he needs to work on what he does best, which is thinking and applying sensible pressure, and stop swinging punches like a tiny Rocky Balboa.
I lost count of the times that his right foot left the canvas as he lunged with a right cross, or the times he dipped to throw a body shot and dropped his guard. Jim Watt, the connoisseur of ring excellence and former world champion, sprinkled his commentary with silences of amazement at what he was watching. “What are you doing, Ricky?” Watt asked at one point. The head of boxing at Sky, a nice guy called Adam Smith, admitted that Beltran had won, which was classy.
Beltran handled Burns like a champion controls a novice in the gym, moving him with one hand and landing with the other repeatedly in a cheeky move that the best use. It was close to a masterclass as Beltran, an unmarked product of Freddie Roach’s ferocious and unforgiving Wild Card gym in Hollywood, closed the gaps, dictated pace and left Burns lunging like a man wearing blinkers fighting a swarm of wasps.
The pain from the jaw was obvious and there is a strong case that Burns should have been rescued from his own bravery, especially after he was dropped so heavily by a left hook in round eight, long before the tabulations from the heist were announced.
Burns has had surgery and needs a long medical and mental rest before giving Beltran a rematch. However, it is unclear if he will ever be able to fight again.
Farcical fights: Other dodgy decisions
Roy Jones v Park Si Hun
Light-middleweight final. Seoul, 1988
Jones won every round but local boy Hun had his hands raised on a 3-2 score. The outrageous verdict came close to ending boxing in the Olympics.
Paul Burke v Felix Bwalya
Commonwealth light-welterweight title. Lusaka, Zambia, 1997
Burke dominated, dropping Bwalya in the 12th round. The bell went early, Bwalya was actually held up and given the verdict. He collapsed and died 10 days later.
Sven Ottke v Robin Reid
IBF and WBA super-middleweight titles. Nuremberg, Germany, 2003
Just one of Ottke’s 21 defences, which all took place in Germany, that ended after 12 rounds in controversy.