The WBO lightweight title bout between champion Ricky Burns and challenger Terence Crawford is arguably the finest fight available at 135 pounds, and when both combatants enter the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Center in Glasgow, this Saturday night, a capacity crowd of 10,000 fans will manifest that fact.
Burns, THE RING’s No. 3-rated lightweight, is accustomed to the big fight atmosphere. In September 2010 the Scotsman annexed the WBO super featherweight title with a unanimous decision over Roman Martinez and, one year later, outpointed dangerous Aussie Michael Katsidis in his lightweight debut.
By contrast Crawford, THE RING’s No. 8-rated 135 pounder, will be taking part in his very first world title bout, but that statistic is somewhat deceiving. The swanky switch hitter has 22 straight wins, with 16 knockouts, and boxing fans all over the world are well aware of the bout’s magnitude.
“The demand has been incredible,” said Burns. “The show is a complete sellout, but my phone hasn’t stopped ringing with people looking for tickets. It’ll be a great atmosphere in Glasgow and, as always, the fans will be just as important as the fighters.”
Team Burns have also made important structural changes in training. A new strength and conditioning program has been implemented and the regime has worked wonders according to the coach who is putting the champion through his paces.
“There’s been a lot of high intensity running,” said Matthew Smillie, who has known Burns for years. “We’ve incorporated sprints, hill sprints, stair runs and Ricky has still completed his regular roadwork throughout the duration of training camp.
“In the gym we’ve put emphasis on core work, plyometrics and speed and agility. We’ve used TRX equipment, where your own body weight works against itself and the Bosu Ball. Both pieces of apparatus put focus firmly on balance and core stability.
Smillie continued, “These changes help because Ricky now has a greater tolerance to lactic acid build up, because he’s working different energy systems. He was already super fit to begin with and this only enhances what was already there.”
Despite these amendments the odds makers predict that we will see a new champion crowned on Saturday night. Crawford is unbeaten and carries a formidable reputation but Burns, who has overcome the odds more than once, remains unfazed.
“I don’t pay attention to odds,” said the proud Scotsman. “Crawford is a very good boxer with quick hands and his record indicates that he can definitely punch. I’m expecting a hard fight, but that’s why I’ve trained for.
“People writing me off and making me the underdog just takes all the pressure off me. There are those who say Crawford will knock me out, or beat me wide on points, but I’ll just go out there and do my thing.
“Fingers crossed he brings out the best in me.”
Acclaimed coach Billy Nelson has worked with Burns since the Scotsman lost a decision to Carl Johanneson in February 2007. Seven years on the duo remain unbeaten and the outspoken trainer can’t see that changing on Saturday night.
“I’m extremely confident,” said Nelson. “If Ricky Burns produces what I see in the gym on a weekly basis then he beats any lightweight in the world, so I’m fully confident that he beats Terence Crawford.
“Ricky is in a happier place and there have been zero distractions in this camp. Matthew (Smillie) has got him into fantastic condition with the strength and conditioning work and Ricky has enjoyed training more than ever.
“There have been noticeable improvements in terms of punching power and foot movement and he’s coming into this fight in the peak of condition. Ricky may have had a lot of fights, but he’s not had many wars and he’s still a very fresh athlete.”
Since Crawford’s arrival in Glasgow he has kept his own counsel. The Omaha native has shunned the media at every opportunity, whereas trainer Brian McIntyre has aimed some serious verbal volleys in Burns’ direction, accusing the defending champion of being amateur and basic.
Nelson said, “It’s hard to believe that Brian McIntyre has been so disrespectful. Ricky has boxed almost as many championship rounds as Crawford has in total. McIntyre has just opened his mouth and let his belly rumble, but he’ll be the creator of his own downfall.
“I hope they’ve underestimated Ricky because they’ll be in for the shock of their lives.”
Ricky Burns (36-2-1, 11 knockout) is not the type of man to be dragged into verbal warfare. Prior to his bout against Roman Martinez the hard hitting Puerto Rican gave the Scotsman a cut throat gesture, inches from his face, and Burns responded by smiling at him.
But what does the defending champion see in Crawford as a fighter?
“I’ve watched a few rounds,” said Burns. “To be honest I’d looked at clips some time ago, when I knew there was a chance we could meet. He’s extremely good technically and it’s one of those fights where I can’t afford to just dive in or he’ll pick me off, so we’ve been working on a few things.
“You’ll see a different Ricky Burns, when that first bell rings.”
Photo / Scott Heavey-Getty Images
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing