Humble Ricky Burns ready to write new boxing chapter
Last updated on .From the section Boxing
Distinction awaits Ricky Burns, but he already stands apart in the ranks of leading boxers.
Bashfulness is, after all, an uncommon trait in fighters who can claim world class status.
The business rewards chutzpah and garrulous personalities as well as talented and enduring competitors.
Burns is a two-weight world champion but still squirms with unease when asked about his achievements in the sport.
He will become the first Scot to win a world title at a third weight, and only the second British fighter after Duke McKenzie and Bob Fitzsimmons, if he defeats the Italian, Michele di Rocco, at Glasgow's SSE Hydro on Saturday night.
To Burns, the historical significance of the contest is merely another accolade to shy away from.
It is not in his nature to be loud and brash and his wider acclaim is perhaps diminished for that, but victory on Saturday night would reward valuable qualities. He is wholehearted, brave, a clean, assured puncher and full of heart.
There was no mistaking the affection for Burns when he took his place on the podium at Glasgow St Enoch's Centre for the weigh-in on Friday.
The crowd that had gathered for the occasion cheered loudly for the 33-year-old, who was wearing the pink Scotland away jersey beneath his deep blue tracksuit.
When he posed head-to-head with Di Rocco - a hard-faced, steely-eyed figure - a voice shouted: "Give him a Glasgow kiss, Ricky." Showmanship is alien to Burns, so even contrived aggression is missing from his repertoire. As he walked away from Di Rocco, he smiled broadly and shared a joke with the promoter, Eddie Hearns.
Burns has fought in defining contests already, in particular his hard-fought win over Roman Martinez in 2010 that delivered the WBO world super-featherweight title and his 2011 victory over Michael Katsidis for the interim WBO world lightweight title, which he went on to secure outright against Paulus Moses.
The Scot tends to lack the explosive power to end fights early, but his relentless work-rate and endless depths of resolve generally allow him to wear opponents down.
Di Rocco has only boxed outside Italy twice in his long career, and has never fought at world level, but he cannot be dismissed as a pretender.
"I'm expecting him to have a hard fight," says Burns' trainer, Tony Sim. "The early going is going to be hard, the first few rounds, because, although no-one's really seen or heard of this guy, I've watched plenty of him and he's a real decent fighter, a tricky boxer.
"I'm expecting Ricky to come on strong midway and in the latter half of the fight. We've got a game-plan for the early rounds so that the Italian doesn't open a gap on us.
"Ricky's been training since January, he's had 16 weeks for this fight, so he's in fantastic condition and with [moving up to] light-welterweight, he's done the weight easily enough. We're expecting a massive crowd getting behind him to try to cement his place in history as a three-division world champion."
Burns is unlikely to be overwhelmed even if Di Rocco is the more aggressive and assertive fighter in the early stages. The Scot once fought for seven rounds against Raymundo Beltran with a broken jaw and, on his return to Glasgow for the first time in two years, Burns will be inspired to recover the best of his form.
He won his last two fights, but before that lost three out of four, and the sense was of a career in decline. He has never viewed his career solely in terms of championship belts, so Burns never had the inclination to slip away into retirement and the consequence of that is a potential place of his own in the history of the sport.
"A lot of it is motivation," says Sim. "When he boxed [Omar] Figaro, last year [which he lost], he was fighting him and the referee.
"If that had been a straight fight, there would have been nothing in it. He put up a great performance against an undefeated world champion.
"You've got to realise that he's done 10 world title fights and then you're sticking him into eight and 10-rounders that don't mean anything to him and everybody's expecting him to fight out of his skin again.
"He'll be motivated for this fight because he knows what it means for him and hopefully we'll see the best of Ricky Burns."
Patience and resilience will be Burns' key allies at the Hydro. Once in the latter rounds, he can impose himself and try to build the momentum that would deliver a victory.
In Sims' Essex gym, the other fighters joke with Burns about him being a veteran. His career and his abilities have not yet run their course.