It seems like only yesterday that Ricky Burns surrendered his WBO lightweight championship on points to American switch-hitter Terence Crawford, but the former two-weight world titleholder returns on Friday when he meets the unbeaten Dejan Zlaticanin in Glasgow, Scotland.
Burns, THE RING No. 4-rated lightweight, has switched trainer ahead of this comeback bout. The super fit 31 year old worked with Billy Nelson for seven years but made the decision to relocate, following defeat to Crawford in March, and Essex-based coach Tony Sims is now in charge.
“This camp has gone by so fast,” Burns told RingTV.com. “There’s a great bunch of lads in the gym and so much variety in terms of the actual training. Some mornings Tony will get you up for sledge runs or track work then, at the gym, there’s always subtle shifts in terms of boxing orientated work.”
An avalanche of critics poured scorn on Burns following a trio of below par performances against Jose Gonzalez, Raymundo Beltran and Crawford. The Scotsman emerged 1-1-1 (1 knockout) following three arduous encounters, and is keen to regain the consistency and tenacity which saw him best the likes of Roman Martinez and new stable mate Kevin Mitchell.
“When I teamed up with Tony he did say it was pointless trying to change me completely,” said Burns, as though stating the obvious. “We have worked a lot on my footwork and moving my head, after I’ve finished punching, so that I can avoid being caught in an upright position. I think I’m getting the hang of it on the pads and I’m pulling it off on occasion during sparring.
“This is my first camp with Tony and hopefully we see big improvements from fight to fight.”
The immediate target, Dejan Zlaticanin, is 18-0 (13 knockouts) and has fought exclusively in South East Europe. This Montenegro based lefty hasn’t come close to mixing in the same class as Burns, but he has arrived in Scotland full of passion and took to Twitter to announce that Burns will lose on Friday night.
“I saw the Tweet,” said Burns, with a smile. “I’ve still not watched any footage on Zlaticanin, but my trainer has and I know what to expect. He’s a strong southpaw, who comes forward looking for the big hooks. Admittedly he can punch a bit, but training has gone really well and I’ll be ready for whatever comes my way.
“The first few rounds will be tough, but hopefully I can ride the storm, wear him down and secure the win.”
The ultimate goal for Burns is to regain a version of the world title and WBC belt holder Omar Figueroa Jr. has been mentioned more than once. Modest to a fault, the Scotsman initially attempted to avoid looking ahead, but finally admitted that crosshairs are locked on the rugged Texan, even if he does remain out of range at present.
Burns said, “I’ve been asked what route I would like to go, but my answer is always the same. I will fight whoever Matchroom put in front of me and I’ll train exactly the same way, whether it’s a world title fight or a six rounder. I always give it everything and I never put additional pressure on myself.
“My team is hoping to secure me a high ranking with the WBC, should I come through against Zlaticanin, and then we’ll probably look towards a final eliminator. Despite all that I am not looking past this opponent, because if I slip up here then future plans against go out the window.”
The night following Burns’ return will see Terence Crawford face off against former two weight world titleholder Yuriorkis Gamboa in a homecoming attraction of his own, in Omaha. The Scotsman, clearly respectful of his former foe, is tipping him to make a successful first defense against the talented Cuban.
“It’s a cracking fight,” said Burns. “Ultimately, I think Crawford is going to be too crafty and too big for Gamboa, but it is a tough fight for him. That said his reach and ability to judge distance should lead to a unanimous decision victory.”
Burns remains a fine ambassador for the sport and his return ignites real excitement in Scotland, and presents an invaluable opportunity for the country’s emerging talent to showcase their own skills.
“A big thank you to everyone for their support,” said Burns, in earnest. “I was gutted to lose my world title to Crawford, but nothing has changed in terms of my attitude. I’ll be going out there to put it all on the line and prove myself once again.”
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing