After eating chopped pork on toast at Billy Nelson’s house I was off to watch Ricky Burns spar John Simpson.
It was May 2009 and Nelson’s Fighting Scot’s Gym had been open for two years thanks to the graft and finance of Nelson who was also trainer to the ‘Rickster’ at the time. Decked out in still brand new looking equipment there were also memories of Scott Harrison’s illustrious career pictured along the four walls before things spiralled out of control.
Ricky was a month away from his seventh fight in 16 months, four of which were scheduled 12 rounders, against Kevin O’Hara (a replacement for Stephen Foster Jr.) in Glasgow. It was Burns third defence of his Commonwealth super featherweight title that he won eight months earlier against Osumanu Akabu.
It had been a busy period in the career of Burns and the workaholic was in need of a break. With a trip to Las Vegas to see Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Juan Manuel Marquez on his mind Burns stepped in to do some rounds with friend and relentless featherweight John Simpson, a man who also had a Commonwealth title to defend against Paul Truscott in the coming September.
With industrial heaters blazing, my leather jacket removed for fear of melting, cameras put away, the two pals went at it with nowhere to run. Burns was on the back foot trying to keep Simpson at bay who was like a greyhound chasing the rabbit. It was competitive, fun to watch and with no clear upper hand to either man. Burns was jaded and just needed to get O’Hara out the way before recharging his batteries.
Ricky was still confident about his prospects against O’Hara despite the need for a rest, telling me he would “box the head off him” and “generally have too much for him on the night". O’Hara and his enthusiastic swings, as well as his fondness for the dirtier parts of boxing, gave the champion a somewhat torrid 12 round fight that ended in Burns' favour.
After kindly giving me a lift to the nearest bus stop Ricky Burns would go on about the rest of his Saturday, possibly to the travel agents. Not knowing that he just over 12 months away from making the Kelvin Hall reach decibel levels it never thought possible when he wrestled Roman Martinez’ WBO 130lb world title out of his big punching Puerto Rican hands to begin a road that led to a piece of history on Saturday night against Michele Di Rocco.
Glasgow’s SSE Hydro arena opened in 2013 and has seen the likes of Lady Gaga and Beyonce belt out their vocal talents in front of adoring fans, but it's possibly unlikely they would not have received the welcome that Burns did on Saturday just before his date with history, his chance to become Scotland’s first ever three-weight world champion and Britain's first since Duke McKenzie.
Walking out to ‘Hall of Fame’ by The Script and kitted out in white Burns had a Glasgow roar behind him. The kind to make the hairs on your body stand up and take some time to sit back down again. The noise was deafening and the crowd re-energised after doing all they could to push Willie Limond to victory in the contest beforehand against Tyrone Nurse. A win that would have given Limond a second British super lightweight title at the age of 37. A fight that was also rudely interrupted by Shannon Briggs who walked in with his once catchy catchphrase of ‘Let’s Go Champ!’ An unwelcome distraction that pleased some members of the audience who chanted along with him.
"Shannon! Can I just ask one thing? Please knock David Haye out!" bellowed an over excited individual who went on to repeat his dislike for Haye in colourful terms.
With photo requests and chants deafening my ears; Briggs, his men and some fans were ordered to settle down by security who were doing all they could to quieten a situation that was taking away from what was an enjoyable fight between Nurse and Limond.
Over the next hour the thousands of fans rocked the Hydro as Burns played a consistent tune of jabs and straight right hands that Di Rocco and his corner seemingly had no answer for round after round. In the end the task was too much for the Italian who was out of his depth and allowed Burns to dictate proceedings despite his plodding and not so threatening pressure.
The 34-year-old European champion had no answer for the gameplan of Burns and trainer Tony Sims, which rightly had its repeat button pressed after every three rounds was over.
Two years with Sims down in Essex had finally come together. The out-of-ring issues with former promoter Frank Warren and the jaw that Ray Beltran famously broke were distant memories to a 33-year-old Scot who just over 10 years ago lost to compatriot Alex Arthur when challenging the Edinburgh fighter for his European, British and Commonwealth featherweight prized possessions.
The blonde hair gone, the frame bigger, the pink shorts gone (?)… Burns justifiably couldn’t stop smiling after his win as he told media afterwards how he was at how easy things were against Di Rocco with Sims nodding along in smiles and agreement.
Burns has re-established himself and given his career a significant boost. The names of Adrien Broner, Terence Crawford and Viktor Postol were mentioned in the post-fight presser. “Why not?” declared the new champion. “I’ll fight anyone,” an attitude that will be with him until the day when he is (possibly) forced, such is his love for training and fighting, to put those gloves and kit away for good.
The big fights are what he now craves. Broner in America? The winner of the upcoming 135lb unification between Crawford and Postol? Or stepping back down to lightweight to give us a long overdue showdown against WBA lightweight champion and stablemate Anthony Crolla. It doesn’t matter to Ricky, what mattered most in the immediate aftermath was the McDonald’s meal he was craving with 20 chicken nuggets high up on his urgent priorities.
Travelling back home the train stopped at Burns’ territory: Coatbridge. The railway station had the delightful name of Coatbridge Sunnyside.
A fitting name for Ricky Burns’ boxing career which is once again back on the sunny side.
Image courtesy of Lawrence Lustig.