There is a case for thinking that the boxing life of Ricky Burns has taken place on undercards, in champion’s backyards and far from the glare and rewards of big fights at home.
The truth, as is often the case in boxing, is far from the distortion of his alleged obscurity, and Burns defends his WBO lightweight title against his mandatory challenger, Jose A Gonzalez, at the Emirates Arena tonight in what will be his fifth world title fight in seven to have taken place in his Glasgow backyard.
Burns, 30, did start his professional career as a roaming fighter, filling in gaps when called and his two defeats in 37 fights came as the visitor in British championship contests; in 2006 Alex Arthur beat him in Edinburgh on a hot night and the following year, at an equally volatile Town Hall in Leeds, he lost on points to Carl Johanneson.
During the last few months Burns has been moved from the sidelines to the centre of attention, something that was often difficult to manoeuvre when his fights needed a bit of glitz, because of his public split with Frank Warren and subsequent high-profile defection to Eddie Hearn. The acrimonious split, which will end up in court, will rumble on and could cost the fighter a fortune in legal fees.
Hearn, who often refers to his style of promoting as “new age”, promised to return Burns to Scotland and get him and his fans a good fight; it has to be said that young Eddie has succeeded with the Gonzalez match. The Puerto Rican is unbeaten in 22 fights, with 17 ending before the last bell, and he is a year younger than Burns. However, it is not exactly “new” because in 2010, at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall, Warren imported the unbeaten WBO super-featherweight champion Roman Martinez, who had stopped or knocked out 16 of his 25 opponents. Burns was brilliant on the night and his loyal fans delighted as he won his first world title.
Burns has been an excellent champion in the ring and a reluctant star outside the ropes, which is a pity because the Martinez win, the Michael Katsidis masterclass and the savagery of the Kevin Mitchell stoppage were all impressive. Burns will need another quality performance to beat Gonzalez and give both his fans and his critics what they have clearly forgotten that they have already had.
Meanwhile, Jamie McDonnell, the British bantamweight champion, will walk out at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium to fight the unbeaten Mexican Julio Ceja for the vacant IBF bantamweight title in the cold tonight. Ceja has knocked out 22 of his 24 victims and if this was taking place in a Bullring at altitude in Puebla then McDonnell would not have a chance. However, fighting at home does odd things to fighters and Burns had even less chance against Martinez.