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Reputation has taken a beating but all is not lost

Defiance and conviction will be the last qualities to depart Ricky Burns.

Terence Crawford is held aloft after defeating Ricky Burns by unanimous points decision on Saturday. Picture: SNS
Terence Crawford is held aloft after defeating Ricky Burns by unanimous points decision on Saturday. Picture: SNS

An hour or so after he lost his WBO lightweight belt to Terence Crawford and understood again that there are times when a fighter can only acknowledge the superiority of his opponent, Burns pledged to return.

He was bruised, still carrying the red blotches of a hard night's realisation, but he continued to fight. This time, it was against the notion that a period of his career had ended. "My hunger's the same," Burns insisted, "whether I'm world champion or not. My attitude doesn't change."

That approach has underpinned his career, from the days when he trained in a small hut in a Coatbridge park to being moulded and shaped by the wily Billy Nelson in a custom-built gym. Burns has achieved more than many thought was possible when he first emerged as a thin, callow, shy, pale but tattooed young fighter. There is another battle to be fought now, though, against the feeling that he has turned backward in his career.

He made the same assertion about carrying on at world level while sitting next to the new WBO champion on the edge of the ring late last Saturday night, as the crowd filed mutedly out of Glasgow's SECC. Burns lost 116-112, 117-111, 116-112, although it could have been scored more harshly by the judges. But later, in the small hours of the morning, after he had showered, changed and come to terms with his defeat, his words carried more weight.

At 30, there is no reason for Burns to consider anything but another phase of his career. He has lost before, many champions have, and even if he could admit that he was defeated by "the better man", that didn't mean that there is nothing left to salvage.

There are other lightweight world title belts to be won, and a competitive domestic scene in which he remains the leading boxer. Burns, even in defeat, remained unaffected. As he sat down for the post-fight press conference, he politely asked his promoter, Eddie Hearn, if there might be a spare copy of the programme to take home. Hearn assured him that they would find one.

This had been a night when Burns sought redemption, but found instead the limit of his talent and his application. Crawford - a withdrawn but arrogant and bullish fighter - was too quick, too elusive and ultimately irrepressible. The champion had fought as he always does, doggedly, with unyielding commitment, but he was by his own admission outworked and outfoxed by a clever opponent whose left jab flashed with agonising pace and precision, and whose ability to switch-hit left Burns trying to fathom an awkward puzzle.

The hope for the 10,000 crowd was to play their part in dismantling Crawford, who brought with him a record of 22 unbeaten contests and a reputation as one of the rising stars of US boxing. He will, certainly, never have been so derisorily serenaded as a "w****r" by so many people, or heard his opponent urged to "punch him in the baws".

Glasgow loves a scrap - and there were at least two in the crowd over the course of the evening - but this was a measured display by both fighters. Burns was methodical, while Crawford zipped about the ring, landing blows on the counter but also capable of forcing Burns onto the ropes and into a defensive posture.

As Crawford racked up the points, it became increasingly clear that Burns needed something gloriously explosive to alter the outcome of the contest. He could not find it. "I thought it was a lot closer than some of the judges had it," Burns insisted afterwards. "Some of the rounds could have gone either way.

"He was looking for counters, and when his movement's so good, it's hard to fight against it. Every time I was going to throw he was stepping out of distance. I was over-reaching, and that's when I was caught."

Burns intends to remain at lightweight, and he felt his "jaw was fine", too, having had a titanium plate inserted after breaking it in his previous fight, against Raymundo Beltran. The psychology of a defeat can take longer to heal than the physical marks, but Burns is not consumed by ego in the way of some fighters. Boxing is not about self-aggrandisement - otherwise he would not have maintained his part-time job in a Coatbridge sports store - so Burns will regroup and carry on.

"He was real tough," said Crawford. "I hit him with some hard shots and he took it well. He got himself together real quick."

That is how Burns will react now.

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