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Bunce on Boxing: Ricky Burns joins ranks of battered fighters who refused to quit


In May a boxer called Denis Lebedev, fighting Guillermo Jones for a world title in Moscow, set a new extreme standard of bravery by surviving 11 rounds with a gruesome set of injuries.

Lebedev was bleeding from multiple facial wounds and his right eye had vanished under a grotesque swelling by round five. However, the Russian was still trying to fight after his corner, his promoter and the ringside doctor had refused to perform their humane duty. The cruiserweight was knocked out in round 11 and spent five days recovering from the disgraceful episode in hospital.

“Denis knew that he could win, he wanted to win and that is why he continued,” claimed Lebedev’s coach Kostya Tszyu, a former world champion, who was once rescued from his own bravery after 11 rounds in a fight with Ricky Hatton. Lebedev will fight again next month.

On Saturday night in Scotland, Ricky Burns fought from round three with a broken jaw in his controversial lightweight world  title fight with Mexican Raymundo Beltran. Burns won a hometown decision but was rushed to hospital and had surgery to place a plate over the crack. It comes off in six weeks and he will then be told that he can fight again.

Burns mentioned the injury early in the fight during the 60-second breaks but his coach, Billy Nelson, has stuck by his comments from the night and refuses to entertain any suggestion that he should have pulled Burns out. The Scot was in obvious pain, especially after the fourth round, and, to be fair, never made a fuss.

“Ricky was still in the fight and pulling him out was never an issue,” Nelson told me yesterday. “We didn’t talk about it during the fight and we have not talked about it since. He will be back, he’s a fighter.”

Nelson is a straight-talking man and between rounds would often usher Burns up from his seat and back into the action with a warning “to stop feeling sorry for yerself”.

At the end of round two of the first Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton fight in 1973 it was clear to Angelo Dundee that Ali had a broken jaw. “I could see it, I could hear it and I told him that I was pulling him out,” Dundee said.

“No, I can beat this sucker,” Ali fired back, his jaw clicking audibly as he spoke. “He won’t touch my jaw.” The fight went 10 more rounds before Norton won a split decision; six months later, after surgery, Ali won the rematch. Burns, incidentally, is adamant that he will beat Beltran in the rematch.

The memory of the heavyweight fight between Danny Williams and Mark Potter for the British and Commonwealth titles at the Wembley Conference Centre in October 2000 still makes me feel a bit queasy. I was one of about 2,000 people in the venue on the night screaming for the fight to be stopped and watching in amazement through my fingers.

Williams dislocated his right shoulder in round three and walked back to the corner with it hanging lame by his side. The fight looked over, but in the corner an old friend of mine called Danny Tovey clicked it back in, and out came Williams for the fourth.

After 10 seconds of the round Williams missed with a right cross and the shoulder popped out again. This time the deformity was visible in the cheap seats and, as Williams appeared to limp in pain around the ring with his right fist close to his knee, the audience was in uproar.

At ringside Frank Warren, the promoter, was shouting for the fight to be stopped but Williams kept moving, kept avoiding Potter’s punches and, from my ringside seat, I could see his eyes focusing on Potter’s chin.

“Danny told me: ‘Jim, don’t pull me out. Please don’t pull me out, I need just one punch. Please, Jim.’ I gave him the chance,” said Jim McDonnell, who was in Williams’ corner and was poised with a towel of surrender in his hands during the sixth round.

“I told you I could do it,” Williams said after he landed a perfect short left uppercut to drop Potter heavily to end the fight after 2 minutes 41 seconds of the sixth. Both boxers were on the canvas when it was over getting treatment. Williams was discharged from hospital at 3am and has fought 41 times since and is out again later this month. Boxers are, make no mistake, very tough.