It is unusual in the boxing business for a champion to have a normal job away from his duties in the gym and ring. Ricky Burns is unusual and even as WBO lightweight champion he has refused to play the boxing game with the media.
On 16 March Burns will, after seven world title fights, stop being the "kid that works in the sports shop" when he fights Miguel Vazquez, the IBF champion, at Wembley Arena to unify partially the lightweight division. It has to be said that the boy-next-door, the fighter selling you the yellow dot squash ball, was an endearing image in a sport bloated by mediocre self-publicists.
Vazquez is carved from Mexican tradition, a fighter shaped by hardship, defeat and neglect in equal measure during a quite quality career. His three defeats have been against two of the world's best fighters and on all three occasions he was competing at a strange weight. He has twice lost to Saul Alvarez on points and Alvarez remains unbeaten in 42 fights and is also avoided by other world champions. The other defeat was again on points when Timothy Bradley beat him in 2007; last summer Bradley beat Manny Pacquiao.
There was a time in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties when champions like Vazquez, who at 26 has fought 36 times with just the three defeats, routinely arrived in Britain to leave the dreams of the best British boxers coated in blood on the canvas at either Wembley or the Royal Albert Hall. The proliferation of respectable sanctioning bodies – neither the IBF nor WBO existed 25 years ago – meant that there were more opportunities for British boxers and therefore fewer risks needed to be taken; in short, the sacrifices of old could be avoided with some severe diplomacy and consequently the number of world title fights involving British boxers went up but the quality inevitably declined.
It has not, however, been terminal and the series of fights for the WBO bauble between Chris Eubank, Michael Watson, Steve Collins and Nigel Benn in the Nineties defined a generation and set a breathtaking high. There have been dozens of other world title fights involving British boxers in British rings during the last 25 years that easily stand any test of any time. Burns against Vazquez is very, very close to the top of the list.
There were decades when a leading British boxer would have to wait years for his chance at a world title and, having boarded a ship, sailed off to an inevitable beating. There were other British boxers in the Sixties and Seventies who fought for world titles in Britain, often scraping a win, only to find that they had no option but to risk it all in a difficult defence almost immediately.
The modern business certainly treats its fighters better, which is something that the surviving idols of 40 and 50 years ago resent.
Burns has fought and looked like a man from another era throughout his career; on his way to the WBO title, he lost twice in difficult 12 rounders to champions in their own backyards, picking up a forgotten education as a boxer competing without the deceptive layers of pampering and protection.
Vazquez struggled through the murky teenage wars of the Mexican boxing system to emerge as a champion from a pitiless talent pool. On 16 March the clocks will go back when the bell sounds for Burns against Vazquez. It is a fight that nobody can find fault with and that is rare.Reuse content