Boxing: Mitchell shapes up for border classic on a big Burns night
It seems that nobody is convinced about the outcome of tonight's brilliant fight in Glasgow between Kevin Mitchell, the travelling challenger, and Ricky Burns, the hometown champion, that is arguably the best English-against-Scottish fight since 1968.
Burns will be defending his WBO lightweight title for the second time and trying to get the recognition that has so far eluded his efforts, which have been both impressive and overlooked. Mitchell is on a simple mission of redemption after his wayward tendencies ruined his last world-title fight and started a free fall of destruction that came close to ending his career.
Burns famously celebrates his world-title victories with a trip to Nandos and a few hours on his Xbox while Mitchell, in his darkest hours, was out of control, collapsing between bars, one-night stands, violence and confrontations with the police. "I feared for him," admitted Burns, who has been a friend since amateur days.
In 2010 Mitchell was given his dream fight when Frank Warren delivered a WBO lightweight title chance against Michael Katsidis at Upton Park, home of Mitchell's team, West Ham, and a shrine to the young Dagenham fighter. It was all set in place for the local boy, but a breakdown in his relationship with his wife, a crazy streak and some pure stupidity ruined his chances.
"I walked out at Upton Park and I knew it was a mistake. My head was all over the place and there was nothing that I could do. I just had to get in the ring and take the beating," Mitchell said. It ended in round three and somewhere else on the undercard, in a fight oblivious to the 20,000 Mitchell fans, Burns beat a kid who was losing for the 27th time in 35 fights.
A few months later it was Burns who had the fight he wanted when unbeaten Roman Martinez was persuaded to risk his WBO super-featherweight title in Glasgow. It was a bold task for Burns and it looked, to be perfectly honest, like just a routine pit stop for Martinez on his way to Las Vegas super-fights. On the night Burns survived a first-round knockdown to get up, wipe the smile off Martinez's face and pull off a stunning and neglected shock. Martinez won his old title back last Saturday in Las Vegas and remains one of boxing's stars, which is an irony not lost on quiet man Burns.
Mitchell, meanwhile, went away and found some peace to salvage his career. "I made a promise to sort myself out and I have," said Mitchell. "Right now I'm the best I have ever been – my body is right and my head is in the right place." Mitchell came back from the Katsidis loss with a stunning stoppage of the unbeaten former British and European champion John Murray last year. It was a harsh return, a fight created to find out just how much Mitchell had left and, more importantly, how much he wanted to win.
Burns, meanwhile, had finally outgrown the super-feather limit and was matched in a WBO lightweight title fight with Katsidis last November. Mitchell was the biggest cheerleader on the night but it must have been hard to watch his friend give the Australian world champion the boxing lesson that he had so painfully failed to deliver.
They have known each other a long time, sparred a few rounds, which nobody disputes that Burns won, and now, after both turning professional at 18, they finally meet in a glorious throwback fight. Burns has home advantage – significant, with as many as 10,000 packed into the Scottish Exhibition Centre – but Mitchell has shown he can control his emotions in others' backyards, having beaten Manchester's Murray in Liverpool.
Mitchell has just the one loss to Katsidis against 33 wins and Burns has won 34 with just two defeats, both on points in domestic title fights early in his career when he went down to Alex Arthur in Edinburgh and Carl Johanneson in Leeds. Those inside the business are split over the result, seemingly aware that if the best Mitchell fights the best Burns it will be tight. If so the winner will need something special and even then a close, possibly controversial, decision is likely.
It was that way in 1966 when Walter McGowan, the world flyweight champion, beat Alan Rudkin at Empire Pool, Wembley, over 15 rounds for the British and Commonwealth bantamweight title. The referee and sole arbiter, Bill Jones, needed a police escort to get out safely. Rudkin won the rematch in Manchester two years later.
Tale of the tape
Ricky Burns Kevin Mitchell
13 April, 1983 Born 29 Oct, 1984
Lanarkshire Birthplace Romford
Rickster Nickname Mighty
5ft 10in Height 5ft 8in
135lbs Weight 135lbs
70" Reach 68"
Orthodox Stance Orthodox
Billy Nelson Trainer Jimmy Tibbs
36 Fights 34
34 Wins 33
9 KOs 24 2 Losses1
8-15 Odds 6-4
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