Burns vs Indongo preview: and the sparks will fly...
Luke G. Williams
Unknown quantities are rare in boxing, but IBF / IBO super lightweight champ Julius 'Blue Machine' Indongo is one such boxer and his unification bout with WBA champ Ricky Burns is full of intrigue. Luke G. Williams previews a potential cracker...
It is rare for a major unification fight to feature a boxer as mysterious to the 'outside world' as Julius Indongo, but the 34-year-old Namibian - who faces Scotland's Ricky Burns on Saturday night - is as genuine an 'unknown quantity' to British fight fans as it is possible to get in modern boxing.
The policeman from Windhoek - the capital of Nambia, a southwest African nation of just over two million people - has only fought once outside of his homeland while assembling a perfect pugilistic record of 21 fights, 21 victories, with 11 stoppages.
However, that one appearance outside of Namibia was nothing short of sensational, as the 'Blue Machine' - a huge betting underdog - detonated a lethal left hand on the chin of Russian title holder Eduard Troyanovsky to annex the IBF and IBO crowns in just 40 seconds in front of a stunned crowd at Moscow’s Khodynka Ice Palace last December. It was a stunning finish and an immediate KO of the year contender.
Some have dismissed Indongo's triumph against 'Troya' as a 'lucky punch' - but as his manager / trainer Nestor Tobias put it recently: "lucky punches come with a lot of hard work and practice".
To Indongo's huge credit, rather than sit on his titles and clock up defences against undemanding opposition, he has leapt straight into a unification showdown with one of the most experienced fighters in the division in Scotland's three-weight world titlist Ricky Burns. Indongo has also been willing to travel to Burns' backyard in Glasgow to make it happen.
With Burns currently ranked fourth at super lightweight by Boxing Monthly and Indongo fifth, the victor of this clash will be in an enviable position to negotiate a lucrative unification with consensus division top shot Terence Crawford for all four major belts.
“It is an absolute honour for me to fight another world champion," Indongo commented when the fight was announced. "Ricky is an accomplished champion, I respect what he has achieved so far, but I am going to Scotland with the grace of God, and all the hard work I have put in so far to take his WBA belt from him. I know it won’t be easy, but I have a good team, with passionate Namibian fans and I intend to make them smile on 15 April.”
For his part, the ever likeable Burns does not seem to be taking Indongo lightly. "When Julius Indongo knocked out Eduard Troyanovsky he was immediately an opponent I was interested in," he remarked. "Indongo can clearly punch and that’s an impressive way to win a world title, especially in Russia. It was some shot he hit Troyanovsky with.
"It’s a huge fight in the division and the kind of fights I need to be involved in at this stage of my career. There were other names talked about but I wanted the toughest, most dangerous fight out there. Indongo with his two belts was that man."
Indongo is an awkward southpaw and will hope to replicate the issues that Burns had the last time he fought a left-hander in Dejan Zlaticanin, who decisioned the Scotsman in 2014. Indeed, Burns has faced very few lefties in his career, and the last time he beat a southpaw was way back in 2008, when he bested Ghanaian Osumanu Akaba on points in a Commonwealth super featherweight title match.
Unsurprisingly, Burns' trainer Tony Sims secured the services of several rangy southpaws for the Scot's training camp, with the WBA champion claiming this week: "I have been handling southpaws a lot better [in sparring] than I thought I would have done".
If Burns was to win on Saturday it would complete a remarkable career renaissance. The aforementioned Zlaticanin defeat came straight after the loss of his WBO lightweight title to Terence Crawford, leaving the Scot's career in desperate trouble. By the time he lost to Omar Figueroa Jr two fights later in May 2015, 'Rickster' was on a run of three defeats in four fights and looked finished as a top-level operator.
Remarkably, though, Burns has since bounced back, winning four contests on the spin, and claiming the WBA super lightweight crown in the process - his third title in three weight divisions, after reigns as WBO super feather and lightweight champion.
The vast experience the Scotsman has accrued in his 47-fight career might give him the edge against Indongo if the contest goes the distance. After all, the Namibian is a couple of months older than Burns, but has had less than half the amount of pro contests his opponent has.
Indongo's amateur pedigree is impressive though - he qualified for the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and the Olympics in 2008, which is no mean feat for a boxer from such a small country. His experiences fighting around the world as an amateur, as well as the evidence of his victory against Troyanovsky, suggest that Indongo will not be overawed by the vocal and feverish support that Burns seems sure to enjoy at the Hydro arena.
The Namibian's camp have also had previous experience of facing Burns, with Indongo's stablemate Paulus Moses having dropped a unanimous decision to the Scot in 2012. In the lead-up to this contest, Indongo has been sparring with Moses and receiving tips from him.
With a marginal reach advantage and a dangerous left hand, Indongo can certainly not be written off even if, once again, the bookmakers have made him the underdog.
My gut feeling is that Indongo will need to knock Burns out to win, and that the Namibian will go for it, rather than box defensively or cautiously. As such, the fight could produce fireworks.
Certainly, the Indongo camp are confident, with the Namibian's trainer / manager Tobias having told 'The Namibian' newspaper this week: "We are practising all the punches in the bible of boxing ...The important thing is to get a win and bring the third belt home.
"We appreciate all the support we have enjoyed so far, from His Excellency the President [Hage Geingob], the founding father [Sam Nujoma] and all our leaders, and importantly, the boxing fans. Come Saturday night, we will carry the whole nation to the ring - 'en die poppe sal dans'.”
The meaning of that last phrase? 'And the sparks will fly...'