As challenger Jose “Chelo” Gonzalez entered the ring at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, he was made to feel about as welcome as a Scottish winter and his night didn’t get any better as he succumbed to a ninth-round retirement defeat by WBO lightweight champion Ricky Burns.
Both champion and challenger weighed in at 134.5 pounds and looked to be in spectacular condition.
Burns, rated No.3 by THE RING at lightweight, was taking part in his first assignment under Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom banner and let it all hang out in a sizzling performance. He displayed skill, championship heart and regrouped after taking damage to fire back with fury.
Moments after the stoppage, it was disclosed that Gonzalez had in fact damaged his right wrist and that the injury had led to his surrender.
Burns followed the strands of “Flower of Scotland,” amidst a cacophony of noise, by spearing out a lancing jab in Round 1, which the challenger did well to match at times. The Scot was wisely cautious of Chelo’s power but took chances and crossed the right sporadically throughout the session.
That pattern continued through the second and third as the champion controlled the battle of the jab. Gonzalez moved in and out, cocked the right ominously and did manage to smash in some effective work to the body but Burns appeared to have the edge with the more accurate work on the outside.
Gonzalez turned southpaw in Round 4 but was immediately punched back into the orthodox stance by Burns who seemed prepared for that tactical maneuver. It was silky stuff by the champion and at times the Puerto Rican wore the look of a man confused by a question in a crossword.
In Round 5 Gonzalez landed his best right hand of the fight which shook the champion and the Puerto Rican powerhouse rallied well to turn the course of the fight. Burns’ pace had slowed in the sixth when suddenly both men attacked one another with real violence, sending the crowd into an uproar.
At this point the challenger was definitely extracting a toll with his superior punching power.
In Round 7 the champion was clipped by a combination and a follow-up attack had him reeling against the ropes. Showing immense bravery Burns found a dynamite right uppercut which made Gonzalez’s legs dip but he was rattled again by another right hand and returned to his corner looking woozy.
Gonzalez was looking for more bombs in Round 8 but he was falling short and the Scotsman smartly returned to the jab, which landed accurately. Suddenly Burns, with the bravery of a soldier, charged once more with a brilliant sequence and Gonzalez looked bewildered as the champion rose from the ashes.
Burns would not relent in the face of the challenger’s power and continued to keep his foot on the gas in Round 9. For the first time a little discouragement flickered across the face of Gonzalez, who had never engaged in such a fierce encounter, and control was re-established.
That said, the champion was apparently down by three points on all scorecards prior to the stoppage, which this reporter found astonishing.
Burns (36-2, 11 knockouts) retained his composure throughout the occasion and even accompanied a stablemate who was taking part in an undercard bout to the ring, prior to defending his world title. The Scotsman’s chilled demeanor and professionalism before, during and after a contest have been hallmarks of his success to date.
Coming in, Gonzalez had banged out twenty-two opponents, seventeen inside schedule, and had never lost a contest. That said, Burns represented a serious step up in class and the seasoned warrior was far from intimidated by Chelo’s feared punching power, although he took some serious punches and was undoubtedly shaken.
Still Burns was composed, tactically aware and disassembled the Puerto Rican with a jeweler’s care in the final two stanzas.
The challenger, an unknown quantity in that his concussive hitting had never been demonstrated at world level, was faced with two outs. Either he was going to smash his way through Burns in devastating style or discover that you need more than a huge punch to win a world title. Unfortunately for Gonzalez it was the latter.
“He did hurt me in round seven but he was under pressure,” said Burns. “The volume of his punches was beginning to drop and I was going to close fast.”
With Burns’ mandatory challenger sent packing, the way is now clear for the Scotsman and his team to secure a unification fight. Adrien Broner has vacated 135lbs to fire verbal and physical barbs at the world’s leading welterweights, so that would leave crosshairs on rival champions Miguel Vazquez or Richar Abril for a proposed outing in September.
“Vazquez is a fight which appeals to us,” said promoter Eddie Hearn. “Richar Abril is interested in the fight but now we sit down and begin our discussions.”
Photos: Scott Heavey-Gettyimages
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing