Signed, sealed and soon to be delivered.
Ricky Burns will make the fifth defense of his WBO lightweight title against unbeaten American star Terence Crawford at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Center in Glasgow, Scotland, on March 1 and fans are bracing themselves for what could be a thunderous collision at 135 pounds.
“We’ve been back in full training for the last few weeks,” said Burns. “Everything has been going really well and I can’t wait for the fight. Terence Crawford is one of the very best in the division and I’ll be ready for this one.”
In September Burns sustained a badly broken jaw during a title defense against Raymundo Beltran and displayed remarkable courage to last the distance. The Scotsman then benefited from contentious scoring to retain his championship, with a hotly disputed draw, but more problems lay ahead.
The jaw break was a complete separation, and a titanium plate, now a permanent fixture, was inserted into his mouth to help repair serious damage. Burns, usually a gym rat, was unable to box for over three months and his career hung in the balance as hospital checkups replaced gym sessions.
Four months later and he’s a new man.
“We’ve just started sparring,” said an exuberant Burns. “We usually do six weeks of hard sparring and we’re bang on scheduled for that. I got the feeling that everyone in the gym was looking at each other when I got hit, but I’m not paranoid about taking a punch.
“I’m just getting down to business like I would for any fight. I’ve taken some shots and the injury I had is at the back of my mind. There are no issues whatsoever.”
Burns (THE RING No. 4 rated lightweight) ended 2013 disenchanted with his chosen profession. The Beltran affair followed an arduous encounter with Puerto Rican bomber Jose “Chelo” Gonzalez, who tested the proud Scot to the limit, before retiring on his stool, citing a wrist injury.
For the Crawford fight Burns promises to be back to his best and is taking measures to enhance the quality of his performance. Top-caliber sparring is being brought in and the champion has also employed the services of a strength and conditioning coach.
“I started sparring with David Brophy (a 168-pound stablemate)” said the WBO titlist. “Ashley Theophane and Tyrone Nurse are switch-hitters like Crawford and I’ll also be going to London to work with Kevin Mitchell (THE RING No. 7 rated lightweight and a former opponent), Luke Campbell (Olympic gold medalist) and Martin Ward (unbeaten prospect).
“We’ve also changed things up with my conditioning work. A friend of mine, Matthew Smillie, is a personal trainer and has changed the times we work out. I’m doing my runs in the morning, which is torture because I’m not a morning man, and I’m also doing TRX workouts, designed for enhancing core strength.
“It’s been a great camp, so far, because we’ve made these changes and it’s not the same old grind every day. I still do all the circuit work I’ve done for years, but we’ve added a few things to help with power and explosiveness.”
Crawford (THE RING No. 9 rated lightweight) comes into his first world title bout with a formidable reputation and his promotional firm, Top Rank, has high expectations. Like Burns he is tall and rangy at the weight and his 16 knockouts, in 22 victories, suggest that the American packs a serious punch.
Indeed, there are many fans who believe Crawford is a step too far for Burns, but is the 30-year-old champion being overlooked, given his huge edge in world title experience?
Habitually Burns performs at his best when his back is against the wall. He was a significant underdog against Roman Martinez and Michael Katsidis, but won both of those fights with room to spare.
“Crawford has fought some good competition,” said Burns. “He took on Breidis Prescott at short notice and there are a few other good names on his record. As always I’m expecting a tough twelve rounds and there will be no shortcuts in my preparation. I’ll do whatever is required to win this fight.”
“The doubters drive me in training camp. I need a good performance and I’m due one. In the Gonzalez fight I was stale on the end of three consecutive training camps and the jaw injury against Beltran prevented me from performing at my best.”
One also sensed that a career-high payday, for the Crawford fight, is secondary in terms of motivation.
“The money is good, don’t get me wrong, but boxing is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” said Burns. “I just want the big fights and it’s important for me to bring shows like this to Glasgow. It gives local fighters excellent exposure, like I got when I fought on Scott Harrison’s undercard.”
Burns' fires are rekindled and he is determined to extend his championship run. His initial goal was to have met Beltran in a rematch but Crawford, the WBO mandatory challenger, now has his full attention.
“This will be a good boxing match,” said Burns, after pausing to consider the pattern which will unfold. “There will be times when I need to force it, but I’ll be fighting smart. As long as I get the win, that’s all that matters.”
British fans can see Ricky Burns vs. Terence Crawford live on Sky Sports 2 HD (Channel 402). Tickets are available from www.matchroomboxing.com
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
Photo by Scott Heavey-Getty Images