Former two-weight world titleholder Ricky Burns was surprisingly upset by the unheralded Dejan Zlaticanin on a split decision in a lightweight attraction in Glasgow on Friday. The official scores were 115-113 twice for the visitor, with a third judge inexplicably voting in favor of the Scotsman by the same margin.
The Montenegro-based southpaw was a huge underdog but surprised both Burns and the home support with a savage attack throughout the majority of the rounds. Burns, THE RING No. 4-rated lightweight, had success but his shots bounced off Zlaticanin, who advanced with little concern for what was coming back.
“I said before this fight that if Ricky were to lose then it was the end of his world title ambitions,” said promoter Eddie Hearn, who filled in for an absent Burns during a hastily arranged press interview at ringside.
“For now I stand by that statement, because you can’t lose to Dejan Zlaticanin and then fight for a world title. Ricky wants to get back to the gym as soon as possible, because he’s a born fighter, but we need to plan a sensible route. This is another step backwards.”
A booming left hook from the southpaw stance dropped Burns heavily in the opening 30 seconds and you could have heard a pin drop at the Glasgow venue. Zlaticanin followed up by applying heavy pressure and Burns was unquestionably rattled before maintaining his composure later in the session.
The Scotsman was tagged again by the left early in Round 2 and tactically he appeared very careless. His right hand was dropping continually and he was flat-footed against the ropes, which allowed the smaller man to unload with heavy shots. Some were blocked but several were landing, with little return fire.
Burns (134.75 pounds) boxed far better in the third, but towards the end of that frame he was nailed again by the left and couldn’t, or wouldn’t, turn his man in an effort locate the escape route. The fourth was identical and Zlaticanin’s accuracy with power shots was becoming nightmarish for the local favorite.
Midway through the bout Burns adjusted and began showing his class. He landed effectively with sharp shots, tied Zlaticanin up on the inside, and walked his man backwards. One memorable right hand snapped the Montenegro man’s head back and the crowd erupted, anticipating a turnaround.
The Scot clearly sensed urgency but Zlaticanin was going nowhere and continued to excel with a spirited showing. The overhand left was the money shot and it was simply not being picked up by the Scotsman’s radar. Burns’ superb chin and desire kept him alive, but he was falling behind on the scoring.
Whispers at press row suggested the visitor was tiring, but that philosophy was short lived as Zlaticanin (19-0, 13 knockouts) put together more great work during the championship rounds. Both traded bombs down the stretch but the 31-year-old ex-champion couldn’t put a dent in his man, much less locate the required finisher.
The last year has been a difficult one for the proud Scotsman. Burns (36-4-1, 11 knockouts) struggled mightily in a win over Puerto Rican puncher Jose Gonzalez, endured unimaginable pain from a broken jaw sustained during a controversial draw with Raymundo Beltran, and then lost his cherished WBO lightweight title to talented American Terence Crawford in March.
This loss, to an undistinguished opponent, is yet another crushing blow.
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing