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Incomparable drama in Glasgow on Burns' night

Burns sends Martinez back with a crashing right hand
Burns sends Martinez back with a crashing right hand

By Keir Murray
BBC Scotland at the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow

Ricky Burns has a tattoo that runs down his spine. It reads "no easy way".

At Glasgow's Kelvin Hall on Saturday, the tattoo took on a prophetic character, for the Coatbridge boxer had to endure an almighty battle to prise the WBO super-featherweight title from Puerto Rico's fearsome Roman Martinez.

In doing so, he proved that nice guys can win, even in boxing, and he gave Scotland her best night in the sport since Scott Harrison reclaimed his WBO world featherweight title in 2003.

The fight will live long in the memory for the atmosphere, the courage and skill of the combatants, and especially for the drama, the final act of which - the announcement of the unanimous verdict - was a reminder of why sport, at times, cannot be surpassed for producing moments of ecstasy.

I showed heart of a champion - Burns

Backed by 3,000 fans in the rocking old venue, Burns, 27, went toe to toe with a man who had never known defeat in 25 bouts.

Seconds before the bell sounded to mark the commencement of battle, the champion gestured to the challenger that he was about to have his throat slit.

By midway through the fight, the Puerto Rican was touching gloves with Burns at the start of the rounds: he had earned his respect.

But to reach that stage the Scot, who missed being best man at his brother David's wedding on Friday to attend the weigh-in, first had to toil.

He was sent to the canvas with 30 seconds left in the opening round with a thudding straight right. His fans winced. In his dressing room after the bout, Burns, as friendly and unassuming as ever, described that punch as "a peach" and admitted to thinking "uh-oh, what's going on here?"

But his appetite for the bout thereafter never betrayed any fear of what further punishment might come his way.

Instead, while many expected Burns to work behind his jab to frustrate the champion, he engaged with 'Rocky' Martinez in a scintillating bout that had fans and reporters alike on their feet.

Ricky Burns poses with the WBO super-featherweight belt
Burns poses with the WBO super-featherweight belt after an incredible bout

Flower of Scotland roared from the throats of his Lanarkshire support and Scottish fight fans. Just as Martinez was relentless in his ferocity, so Burns refused to be subdued, at times absorbing punches on the ropes, then spinning his attacker and sending him back with a flurry of his own.

Not surprisingly, Burns wobbled on a few occasions after that first-round setback, but the sound of the bell, his fans and years of experience kept him in the fight as the tenacious, menacing Martinez looked for the knockout.

Gradually, the left hooks and right crosses of the champion began to miss their target and it was time for Burns to send a shudder of panic through the visitor.

However, he could have been forgiven for being disheartened that his best shots had not floored Martinez. As the fourth round ended, Martinez was on the ropes in his own corner, trying to communicate with his trainer. Burns connected with an uppercut that jolted the Puerto Rican's head, yet the man from Vega Baja merely looked annoyed with himself.

The fight had everything - Warren

The fifth round will go down as one of the most scintillating in Scottish boxing history. First Burns had Martinez pinned on the ropes, thumping right and left hands at his opponent's head and body.

Jim Watt, looking on, must have been transported to his great moment, also at the Kelvin Hall, 31 years previously, when he beat Alfredo Pitalua to lift the lightweight crown. The crowd - rumbustious, mostly male and often topless in that cauldron - produced a roar that would have dampened the desire to go on for most boxers. But not Martinez.

Realising he was in trouble, he crashed his right glove against Burns's jaw and began a frenetic attack on the local hero. And so the attacks went to and fro until the bell approached to end three minutes of mayhem. Burns turned tormentor once more, digging deeply for reserves of energy and courage to repel the champion, and thundered a right that made Martinez sag. The bell could barely be heard in the din.

"Rocky v Rickster" continued almost at the same pace for another seven rounds, neither boxer willing to give in, but neither able, quite, to end his foe's night.

Burns, with ample encouragement from his trainer Billy Nelson, kept his concentration, proving that he could box at world title level, that he had the durability to survive a slugfest, that he had the nous to fight on the inside.

MY SPORT: DEBATE

With the fight in the balance, the tenth was an important round for Burns. A chopping right sent a spray of blood from Martinez's mouth across the ring but the proud champion, at times a force of nature, came back to pepper the Coatbridge man's face with leather.

When the final bell sounded at the end of the 12th, Burns jumped on the ropes, convinced he had done enough to win. The decision was unanimous in his favour - 112-115, 112-115, 113-115.

The quietly spoken, likeable lad had become a world champion.

"The better the opponent, the better I box. I just made a statement to everyone that doubted me. I proved I belong at world level," he said after the bout.

"I have always been confident in my own ability. The heart and the grit that I showed out there - I surprised myself actually. It's struggling to sink in.

"The crowd played a big part in this tonight. They were excellent.

John Simpson (r) was outpointed by Stephen Smith
Greenock's John Simpson (r) was outpointed by Stephen Smith

"Martinez is a true champion. What a hard 12 rounds it was. I am feeling sore already."

Burns was especially grateful to his sparring partner John Simpson for helping him reach peak condition.

Prior to Burns taking to the ring, Commonwealth featherweight champion Simpson had lost a split decision to the impressive Stephen Smith in the third defence of his title.

"The pace we set in training was unbelievable. The two of us always bring out the best in each other," said Burns.

Simpson has proved before that he can recover from adversity. Should he and Burns continue their intense sparring sessions, there can be more great nights like this for Scottish boxing.



see also
Burns wrests title from Martinez
04 Sep 10 |  Boxing
Burns tipped to outshine Harrison
29 Jul 10 |  Boxing
Burns buoyed by fear of Martinez
21 Jul 10 |  Boxing
Biggest fight of career - Burns
24 Jun 10 |  Scotland
Burns secures bout with Martinez
24 Jun 10 |  Boxing


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