FIGHTING PRIDE: Ricky Burns set for clash with Jose Gonzalez (Photo credit: Matchroom Boxing/Action Images)
WHENEVER I watch the television these days I hear a proud and commanding voice say “Scotland might surprise you”.
Now you might be wondering what the voiceover provided by Neil Oliver, star of BBC’s Coast, for the Visit Scotland tourism campaign has to do with boxing but the message could not be more appropriate.
Ricky Burns is one of British boxing’s biggest surprise stories, let alone Scottish boxing.
After losses to Alex Arthur and Carl Johanneson early in his career, the 30-year-old from Coatbridge was left in limbo as to whether he would ever challenge at the highest level.
However tomorrow night, the “Rickster” will enter the newly constructed Emirates Arena in Glasgow with the WBO lightweight title strapped firmly around his waist as he defends it against Puerto Rico’s Jose A. Gonzalez live on Sky Sports.
Burns’ incredible ascension to become a two-weight world champion has provided Scottish boxing with a much-needed shot in the arm.
The fight game north of the border had been crying out for a home-grown superstar since the glory days of Scott Harrison’s classic world title nights at Braehead Arena came to an end.
Step forward the unlikely heir apparent to that vacant throne as Burns’ world title journey began on an unforgettable night at Kelvin Hall in September 2010 when he came back from a first round knockdown to sensationally topple WBO super-featherweight king Roman Martinez.
The Scot was a massive underdog in the build- up to the fight but showed the heart and desire of a true champion to produce the finest performance of his career and write his name into Scottish boxing folklore.
That win over the Puerto Rican proved to be the launch pad for the affable Burns to become the poster boy of Scottish boxing and a perfect role model for the next generation of fighters.
The feel-good factor is well and truly back in Scotland thanks to Burns’ success and his achievements have undoubtedly motivated many of the country’s young prospects to reach similar heights.
The likes of Jon Slowey, Stephen Simmons, Michael Roberts and Burns’ close friend David Brophy, all promoted by the champion’s manager Alex Morrison, have been provided with a much sought after platform to showcase their skills.
Not only will they be fighting in front of a passionate home crowd in a brand new arena tomorrow night but they will also be exposed to a UK-wide audience live on Sky.
Burns’ journey has breathed new life into the sport in this part of the world as more and more people continue to flock to the small hall circuit and watch the progression of the stars of the future live and in person.
Morrison’s most recent shows at Glasgow’s Gorbals Leisure Centre and the Grand Hall in Kilmarnock were packed to the rafters and offered up a plethora of high-octane fights and value for money action.
It was only a few short months ago that the legendary promoter was considering cutting back these shows altogether due to poor crowd numbers.
However, almost overnight the crowds are quickly returning to boxing and Burns’ world level accomplishments must surely have an influential part to play in that.
Yet there are still individuals out there that criticise and doubt his credentials which I find astonishing.
He was written off by those who troll the boxing forums in his first fight at lightweight against Michael Katsidis but boxed out of his skin to defeat the Australian slugger and capture the interim WBO title at Wembley Arena in London in November 2011.
Despite having a home crowd advantage at the SECC in Glasgow, Burns was yet again dismissed as not having the skill range or punch power to defeat English rival Kevin Mitchell in a “Battle of Britain” clash in his most recent title defence last September.
However, those critics were silenced when he stopped Mitchell in the fourth round in a somewhat frenetic but at the same clinical performance.
Unsurprisingly, Burns has simply brushed off any criticisms of him or the men he has fought and focused on the job in hand.
His consummate professionalism and humble nature have proved pivotal in dealing with difficult situations, including his current legal wrangling’s with former promoter Frank Warren after jumping ship to Eddie Hearn’s fledgling Matchroom stable.
The future is blindingly bright for Ricky Burns but he could have a tough night’s work on his hands against Jose Gonzalez.
The 29-year-old Puerto Rican is a big puncher and is undefeated in 22 fights with 17 coming by knock-out. However, this is Gonzalez’s first bout outside of his home country and time will tell if he crumbles under the powder keg atmosphere provided by the Glaswegian crowd.
It would be understandably difficult for the 30-year-old not to be distracted by murmurs of potential fights with IBF champion Miguel Vazquez and high-flying American superstar Adrien Broner but knowing Burns he will leave the talking to others and focus solely on Gonzalez.
Burns rises to the occasion on fight night and almost makes the pressure of being a world champion look easy. His stock has continued to soar year in year out and 2013 looks to be no different.
After a shaky start to the year with the cancellation of his unification fight with Vazquez and an unsavoury split from Warren, Burns is back on track to mix it up with the best the world has to offer.
Almost exactly three years ago, Burns was involved in a routine eight round win over slippery journeyman Youssef Al Hamidi on the undercard of Mitchell’s loss to Katsidis at Upton Park.
Now he is a two-weight world champion with the world at this feet. Who knows, maybe in the next three years he will be known as one of the true greats in British boxing history