Ricky Burns is a panacea for boxing.
The sport is occasionally blighted from within, and the press conference brawl that saw David Haye strike Dereck Chisora while clutching a bottle, and the latter holler that he wanted to shoot Haye, was a demonstration of the indifference to offensive violence that exists in the margins of their profession. The two men were briefly lost to their own furies, seeming out of control, and could still be charged by police in Munich, where the altercation took place two weeks ago.
A sense of theatre surrounds boxing, but if the argument between Haye and Chisora was pre-arranged, the stage management went awry. Adam Booth, Haye's trainer, ended up with blood seeping from a gash on his head. Chisora has a record of anger-management problems, but Haye could not pretend to be an innocent. His fight with Audley Harrison turned out to be a farce, but the build-up was heated and Haye at one stage claimed the contest was going to be as "one sided as a gang rape".
The abusive insults are imagined to be a marketing ploy, and many observers are waiting for the announcement of a contest between Haye and Chisora. Even the naked ambition seems insulting. Outside the ring, Burns often appears as though the only threat he poses is to generate an overwhelming amount of admiration. He is a quiet, modest, bashful figure, but each quality seems a powerful retort to the crassness and brutality that boxing can generate.
"I always like to see the good about boxing, and that's Ricky Burns. He's a gentleman, a credit to not just boxing but sport," says Frank Warren, his promoter. "You couldn't meet a more honourable or genuine guy. The sport's taken quite a bit of flak over recent weeks, but Ricky and Nathan Cleverly are the sides of the sport we should be celebrating. It's not fair on them that they should get caught up in what's gone down."
Burns is preparing for his first defence of the WBO lightweight title, against Paulus Moses at Braehead Arena on Saturday. Even the promotion of the contest centres on Burns' unassuming nature. He cringes from the depiction of himself as a remarkable figure, even though he is one of only two Scots to have held world titles at two different weights, along with Paul Weir. His weekend job in a Coatbridge sports store only emphasises his self-effacing attitude.
"Everybody who goes into the shop wants to know why I'm working there," he says. "But it gives me something else to do apart from training, so it breaks up your week, and it keeps me grounded as well. When I read stories about what people say about me, I get embarrassed. I don't like all the attention after the fights."
Humility still sells. Braehead Arena's 6000-seat capacity is already almost full, and the anticipation is for a testing night for Burns. Moses is capable of a concussive right-hand blow and at 33 he is a wily campaigner. Once a holder of the WBA lightweight belt, he is one of Don King's fighters and left his home country of Namibia last week after a state lunch during which the President, Hifikepunye Pohamba, told him to: "Go to the United Kingdom to beat up the British fellow."
The exhortation would amuse Burns. He is incapable of being riled before fights, and prefers not to watch footage of his opponents in preparation. Burns leaves the strategising to his trainer, Billy Nelson, and relies on his ability to rise to the occasion in the ring. "I've been in with big punchers before," he says. "You can worry too much about what's coming back at you, I prefer to think about what I'm going to do."
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