Boxing: Ricky Burns rips up the form book again to assert world class

 

Ricky Burns has started to ask questions in the ring that his opponents simply have no answer to and on Saturday night in Glasgow, in front of 10,000 avid fans, Kevin Mitchell folded in the fourth round of their WBO lightweight fight.

Burns steadily increased the pace, edged closer with each attack and started to put more power in his punches as the minutes and rounds transformed a 50-50 fight into a massacre, leaving Mitchell a stumbling wreck and his career once again open to debate.

"He covered so much ground," said Mitchell, the shock and pain of the double knockdown in round four still fresh in his eyes. "I never planned to stand and trade punches with him, I should have tucked up more, but I had no choice, he was brilliant."

Mitchell is still a potential force at the weight, which is why he plans to fight again in November, but as midnight approached on Saturday night he remained genuinely shocked. "I never underestimated him, I had the respect. He is just so much better than I thought."

Burns denied that he had been dismissive of Mitchell inside the ring, a stage lifted by the presence of so many passionate fans at the SECC in Glasgow, and praised his friend's bravery. However, the reality is that Burns opted to walk through the best of Mitchell's punches from the opening bell, clubbing with wild and short punches until a sweet left hook lifted the Londoner off his feet in the fourth.

It was, in the end, a chilling destruction, made even more impressive by just how unexpected it was in a round that the bookies had marked as wide as 60-1 for a Burns stoppage.

Mitchell possibly won the opener before Burns made an adjustment in his feet, he moved them closer, and in his punches, he threw them wider, to deny the London fighter any room to move. It worked and with the space in the ring diminishing each time Burns stepped in, Mitchell was forced to stand and fight, drop his tactics and wait for the inevitable.

It was the latest and most impressive win in a series of world championship fights that Burns was either expected to lose or, at best, sneak after a tight 12 rounds of boxing. He has repeatedly made a mockery of the form book, the experts and the bookies, which is a major part of his attraction; he also works weekends in a local sports shop and famously celebrates his world title wins with a blow-out trip to Nando's.

Burns, who is 29, started out on the wrong side of the boxing tracks, progressing from obscure fights and defeats in domestic championship contests on the road, to become the most unlikely of current world champions. "I just seem to be getting better and better," he offered, but his change resembles an explosion, a blossoming of skills, rather than the acquisition of a few extra nifty moves and a crafty left hook. Burns is arguably the best lightweight in the world right now and is certainly the most popular.

Too often in modern boxing we look at the swift progress, courtesy of handpicked opposition, of British prospects and measure their success by the triple deceits of an unbeaten record, the baubles won and their bold talk. Burns, like Scotland's world lightweight champions Jim Watt and Ken Buchanan, the men he follows in history, has become world champion without the excessive protection that can so damage a fighter's development.

Burns will fight again in December and by then there is every chance that he will be closing in on a unification fight and moving ever closer to the type of recognition and respect that some fighters have to earn again and again. "He sure can fight and these fans sure can make some noise," claimed Michael Buffer, the iconic ring announcer, who was on duty in Glasgow. "The kid's not a secret anymore." You could say, Burns is ready to rumble.

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