Boxing’s Last Chance Saloon is an establishment never short of customers and some, like veteran barflies, have been propped up on their stools for a while now. The barmaid, as accustomed to their presence as she is the tables and chairs, regards them with abject pity. When you wander past, you can hear her saying, “Roy, enough is enough. Time to go home.”
There are those who know when they have outstayed their welcome and then there are those who believe they don’t belong there. Ricky Burns might fall into the latter category. But like it or not, he must accept that it’s exactly where he is when he steps into the ring in Texas on Saturday night.
His opponent, Omar Figueroa, isn’t within shooting distance of the age-old property. Instead, this 25-year-old Texan gunslinger is looking to show he’s a much faster draw than the likeable Scotsman, and in so doing impress the mysterious, quiet and wealthy Mr Haymon.
Western clichés aside, Ricky Burns was one of Britain’s good guy tales that we hoped would have a happy ending. But instead a broken jaw and financial difficulties have given us a story that lacks shape and appears to have no end. Here are five chapters in that tale; win or lose, five of Burns’ best performances.
Feb. 25, 2005: Ricky Burns W8 Graham Earl The 22-year-old Burns journeyed to London to face Earl, a man jailed for drug offences, a couple of months after beating a man who I went to school with (Colin Bain). Earl had won the British lightweight title the year before. The scrawny Burns, seen as a warm-up opponent for Earl, wasn’t meant to pose problems, but he did and upset the odds after taking the fight on 48 hours’ notice.
Feb. 18, 2006: Alex Arthur UD12 Ricky Burns One year on and Burns would fight for not one, but three titles against compatriot Alex Arthur, with the Commonwealth, British and European super featherweight championships on the line. The talented Arthur triumphed on the scorecards but enough was shown by Burns to convince many that the future was bright.
Sept. 4, 2010: Ricky Burns UD12 Roman Martinez After a sluggish performance against journeyman Youssef Al Hamidi on the Kevin Mitchell-Michael Katsidis undercard four months prior, Burns was thrown in with a Puerto Rican wrecking ball by the name of Roman ‘Rocky’ Martinez. A cacophonous Kelvin Hall in Glasgow was the venue for one of British boxing’s most surprising world title victories of the modern era. Down in round one, Burns defied most punters and fought back with heart, relentlessness and wicked and weighty combinations to dent the wrecking ball and snatch Martinez’ WBO super featherweight title.
Nov. 5, 2011: Ricky Burns UD12 Michael Katsidis Burns’ first foray into lightweight territory was a dangerous clash against a Michael Katsidis who had seen better days but still posed a serious threat. Many were worried Katisidis would be too much and walk through Burns but the extra 9 lbs would benefit Burns, not hinder him. Healthier and sharper, he simply dominated the Aussie warrior en route to a comfortable decision win.
Sept. 22, 2012: Ricky Burns TKO4 Kevin Mitchell There’s nothing like a Battle of Britain in any sport, and here we had two combatants who had to forget their friendship and go to war. Mitchell started fast and seemed to unsettle Burns, and despite a defiant beat of the chest by Mitchell, it would be Burns who prevailed with a world-class performance to send another fervent Scottish crowd to their homes with smiles on their faces.
The above presented some memorable and inspirational nights for Burns and his thousands of fans. But what’s followed has been a Get Out Of Jail Free card used against Jose Gonzalez; a broken jaw and inept judging when he got a gift draw against Ray Beltran; a boxing lesson from Terence Crawford, and then his fourth pro defeat, and a one-sided one at that (despite the close scorecards), from Dejan Zlaticanin.
His most recent win since, against Alexandre Lepelley, has papered over the cracks. His filing for bankruptcy with reported debts of over £400,000 after a court battle with former promoter Frank Warren has left us wondering if he might be fighting for the wrong reasons. Clearly, Burns vs Figueroa represents a huge opportunity. Maybe a “last chance”?
Now trained by Tony Sims, Burns fulfills a dream by competing in America. Believe it or not, there was a time when his American debut could have been against Adrien Broner. Now he finds himself walking into the Last Chance Saloon and looking back on a difficult and trying last two years.
Whatever the future holds for Burns, Scottish boxing in particular owes a great debt to him. He has carried a nation’s boxing hopes on his shoulders for nearly five years. Everyone in Britain should be rooting for him come Saturday night. A win will see him defy the odds once again and light the flame under an unlikely career resurrection. A loss? Well, that stool won’t keep warm by itself now, will it?
— Shaun Brown