There was barely any way of containing Ricky Burns. While Kevin Mitchell attempted to recover his senses after being stopped in the fourth round of his challenge for the WBO lightweight title, Burns raced across the ring and clambered up one of the corner posts. The champion almost toppled over the top ropes as he yelled and snarled in jubilation. His emotions and aggression were uninhibited.
The ferocity was painstaking, since Billy Nelson, Burns' shrewd trainer, had figured that the most effective way of overcoming Mitchell was to dominate him. The SECC was a hostile environment for the Englishman, but he might have considered seeking refuge among the partisan crowd once Burns got to work. He had no answer to the champion's brutal right-hand punches that went over the top of his defence, or his fierce jab.
Minds were scrambled throughout the arena. Some fans could not be restrained, and twice stewards had to haul people away after skirmishes broke out during the undercard. Once Burns and Mitchell made their way into the hall, even the words of the ring announcer, Michael Buffer, could barely be heard above the frenzy. The national rivalry between Scotland and England added to the intensity of the occasion, but it turned out that Burns was establishing is own place in history.
"Ricky Burns is the best fighter in this country, the best world champion we've got at the moment," said Frank Warren, his promoter. "He's improving, has a tight defence, a sharp jab, a good work ethic inside and outside the ring, and that's what makes him the fighter that he is. Kevin just couldn't cope, Burns was too strong and too fast."
The champions' dismantling of Mitchell was stunning. There was even scope for Burns to confound, since he fought at times like a zealot. Much of his best work in his previous six world title contests was disciplined and measured, but he swamped Mitchell. During the third round, the champion even thumped his chest with his right hand and growled. The posturing was out of character, but it was also pointed. Mitchell responded himself later, doing the same with both of his fists, but by then he was fighting just to survive in the ring.
Mitchell was twice knocked to the canvas in the fourth round, first with a left hook, then with a clubbing right hand. The challenger was struggling to cope, and when Burns unleashed another volley of punches, referee Terry O'Connor stopped the contest. Expectations were shattered, too, since the assumption had been that this would be a close fight and that the two boxers were well-matched.
By discarding some of his usual deliberate style, Burns convincingly asserted his worth. There has been a reluctance to consider him among the elite, but this was the best performance of his career and talk afterwards of stepping up again in weight to claim a third world title could not be considered fanciful. Ambitions tend to be unrestrained in the aftermath of a triumph, but Burns keeps improving as a fighter. Every contest has become an opportunity to create a new level of appreciation.
"It was educated pressure," Burns said of his tactics. "I was just throwing punches like we had been in the gym. When he went down the second time, I was thinking, 'do I go in to finish it off or hold off because I didn't know how much time was left in the round?' But I threw all caution to the wind and just went for it. There's more to come. The better the guy in front of me, the better I fight."
Even time was an ally, since the fight was stopped two minutes and 59 seconds into the fourth round. The bell might have allowed Mitchell time to recover, although he knew then that the fight was already beyond him.
"He's like an Energiser battery, he doesn't stop the fella," the Englishman said. "He was awesome. I don't think there are any world champions at lightweight out there who will bother him. He's got the strength and staying power."
Burns will fly out to Las Vegas this week for a holiday with his new wife, Amanda. He joked about seeking out Floyd Mayweather, the five-weight world champion, for some sparring, but he will take his training gear. Burns will fight again in December and his ambitions are to win the Ring Magazine belt and unify the lightweight world titles. All of those aspirations are within his reach.
"If he keeps going at the rate he's going, he'll be a champion for a long, long time," said Warren. "He's just a gentleman. He's not big-headed. He doesn't cut corners, he doesn't cheat and that shows in the ring. He's fearless."
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