Quite often a fighter is required to exhibit far more than just talent to win a contest. That was never more evident than in Ricky Burns’ most recent lightweight title defense against Jose Gonzalez, which took place on May 11th.
“Chelo” sparkled in front of the Scotsman at times and displayed a skill level that shocked the home crowd, the media and Team Burns. The Puerto Rican gunslinger bossed the first half of the fight, controlled the pace and stunned the champion twice in Round 7.
Ironically, that was the very same session where Burns (THE RING’s No. 3 at 135 pounds) may have turned the fight around. The champion, under heavy pressure, literally stomped his back foot into the canvas and fired a terrific right uppercut that stopped “Chelo” in his tracks.
In the next round Burns took over and Gonzalez, who was now running on fumes, went into serious retreat mode. The Scotsman was solely reliant on heart and guts, maintained the pressure and forced a corner retirement at the end of Round 9.
Gonzalez cited a wrist injury but there are many who feel the challenger’s heart was broken by the relentless champion.
Burns had retained his crown but he was disenchanted with his performance and, as a result, is pushing himself to the limit in a torturous training camp for his next defense, against Raymundo Beltran.
RingTV spoke to the WBO lightweight titlist about Beltran (rated No. 8) and his preparation for their clash on Sept. 7 at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Center in Glasgow.
Ring TV: Despite having beaten some good names it has taken fourteen years for Ray Beltran to get a world title shot. You had a long journey to the top yourself, can you identify with his struggle?
Ricky Burns: Yeah, early on in my career I took a couple of fights that I shouldn’t have (against Alex Arthur and Carl Johanneson) but I did gain a lot of experience from those defeats. I think Beltran is the same and although he has a few losses on his record they have mostly come against guys at the top level. He’s also worked with Manny Pacquiao for years and all that combined experience will have been beneficial. We’re expecting a tough fight but preparation has been going good and we’re right in the middle of hard sparring.
RTV: You were disappointed with your performance against Chelo Gonzalez. What changes have you made to your preparation to get the best of yourself in this fight?
RB: When I watched the Gonzalez fight I noticed that I was diving into range and forcing the action. Basically, I was trying to drag him into a war and he wasn’t for it. Technically he was much better than we expected and that was because there was virtually no footage available to my trainer. All Billy (Nelson) could find were clips of Gonzalez knocking guys out. We were expecting him to come out and look for a fight and my attitude was to meet fire with fire. In hindsight I should have went back to boxing and drew the leads from him but I got the win and that’s all that matters. I’ve went back to basics for this one and I will adapt to what Beltran does on the night.
RTV: Take me through a day of hard training when you’re nearing your peak?
RB: Well this morning I’ve got twelve rounds of sparring to do and then I’ll complete some circuits. This afternoon I’ll be going to the Buckingham Clinic in Glasgow which specializes in Medex training equipment, designed to improve core strength. It’s the only place in Scotland that has these machines and although the workout only takes forty minutes I’ve noticed a real difference. I’ve adapted this into my training since the Roman Martinez fight, which was three years ago. Tonight I’ll do eight and a half miles of roadwork.
RTV: I spoke to Ray Beltran recently and found out that he doesn’t like studying the opposition. He believes the best man wins on the night. Sound familiar?
RB: (Laughs) That is exactly the same as me. I’ve not watched him fight during this training camp, although I’ve seen bits of him in the past. I asked Billy to give me a DVD and he’s brought one to the gym but I don’t even know what fight it is. I might check that out but it’s all about what happens on the night.
RTV: I also asked what parts of his game are likely to trouble you and Beltran mentioned inside fighting. Are you happy to accommodate him?
RB: In my last few fights I’ve been a lot stronger and I’m confident when I stand and trade. I’ll be game for working on the inside if that’s what it takes against Beltran. I’ll just fight a round at a time and, as I said, adapt on the night.
RTV: You have the benefit of fighting before a Scottish crowd, which will be at fever pitch. What kind of reception can Beltran expect?
RB: The crowd in Glasgow is always amazing and everyone comments on it. The last time I fought at the SECC in Glasgow, against Kevin Mitchell, the atmosphere was unbelievable and I’m hoping for the same again. The tickets are going well and my Facebook and Twitter pages are going nuts, so the fans are definitely looking forward to this one. It should be a cracking night.
RTV: You’ve been at the lightweight limit for almost two years and although you’re still comfortable, when do you foresee a move to 140 pounds?
RB: I’m big for a lightweight but 135 pounds is my natural weight for fighting. I’ve always said that if a big fight or a good opportunity arrived at the weight above then never say never, but I am completely comfortable at the moment.
RTV: There are two other huge fights involving Brits in the coming months. Can I have your predictions of Haye vs. Fury and Froch vs. Groves?
RB: Everyone is talking about Haye and Fury because it’s such a big occasion. The build-up will be incredible but this is a 50/50 fight for me, so I’m sitting on the fence. I attended Froch vs. Kessler in May and Carl’s confidence is sky high right now. George Groves will be looking to make a name for himself and he’s been coming along nicely but I think Froch’s experience will be the deciding factor.
RTV: What is your prediction for Sept. 7th?
RB: A Ricky Burns win by stoppage or points. It makes no difference because a win is a win and that’s all that matters.
British fans can see Ricky Burns vs. Raymundo Beltran live on Sky Sports 1 HD (Channel 401). The bout will also be transmitted live on WealthTV in the United States. Tickets are available from www.matchroomboxing.com
Photos by 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