Ricky Burns sacrifices home comforts for unification bout with Julius Indongo
|World super-lightweight unification: Ricky Burns (WBA) v Julius Indongo (IBF)|
|Venue: SSE Hydro, Glasgow Date: 15 April|
|Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live Sports Extra, text commentary and fight report on BBC Sport website|
It's seven o'clock on a crisp Essex morning and a group of hardened fighters have gathered in a converted farm building.
The men exchange nods before retreating to their thoughts. A sense of foreboding pervades the stale air.
"I'm Tony," says the main man, extending his hand. "Ricky will be here any minute. Cuppa tea?"
Sure enough, a moment later the WBA world super-lightweight champion, Ricky Burns, strolls into the gym, joking with his good pal, Lee Crawford.
"We're about to do the triangle," says Burns. "It's murder." The smile and the message are at odds.
And soon it begins - five laps of a 1.2km triangular course along hilly Brentwood back roads. The boxers set off briskly, running in a pack before fanning out.
Trainer Tony Sims informs each man of his time as he sprints across the line. He's pleased with Burns' quickening pace but encourages him to push even harder when he starts his next lap in precisely 60 seconds' time.
Before his world unification fight at Glasgow's SSE Hydro with Namibia's IBF champion Julius Indongo, the 33-year-old Scot looks powerful as he sheds the pounds gradually to make the fighting weight of 10st.
"I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it," says only the third British fighter, following Bob Fitzsimmons in 1903 and Duke McKenzie in 1992, to win world titles at three weights. "That's the worst bit over for the day."
With sweat dripping from his nose and grinning broadly, he walks back to the gym to start circuit training. It's not yet 07:30.
Burns is 400 miles from home and learning to cope with being away from his wife, Amanda, and their young son.
For him, it's a question of sacrifice: He has to endure these 12-week training camps to be in the best possible shape.
He is as modest as they come. As WBO world super-featherweight champion, Burns kept his Saturday job in a Lanarkshire sports shop just to keep himself grounded.
Were it not for his pal's more upmarket car, his journeys to Essex from Coatbridge would be in an old Corsa.
He's quick-witted, self-deprecating and funny. He and Crawford, his friend from their teenage Thai boxing years, joust verbally almost non-stop, cutting one another down with a series of savage one-liners.
It's the patter of the west of Scotland transported south to Sims' Matchroom gym.
Sims is relaxed, mimicking the Coatbridge pair's accent and chuckling away to himself. He's in charge, but his authority stems from the technical knowledge he imparts and from his record of creating champions, rather than anything more heavy handed.
The boxers know they're on the next train to Liverpool Street if they don't match the commitment he demands.
"I respect the boxers and the boxers respect me," says Sims.
"We end up becoming like a family because we spend such a lot of time each day with each other that you get to know each other's personality.
"I'm not one for screaming and shouting. If they are not doing the work, they know when I'm not happy about it."
|How the champions compare|
|Burns (Scotland)||Indongo (Namibia)|
|Current WBA super-lightweight champion (previously champion at Commonwealth super-featherweight, WBO world super-featherweight, WBO world lightweight)||Titles||Current IBF super-lightweight champion (previously Namibian lightweight champion and WBO Africa super-lightweight champion)|
|Won 41 Lost 5 Drawn 1||Record||Won 21 Lost 0 Drawn 0|
|5ft 10in||Height||5ft 10.5in|
Sims is delighted with Burns' attitude to training and is happy to have him in his camp because "the other fighters can look up to a three-weight world champion".
His enthusiasm for a week spent in Ricky's home patch is evident.
"I love coming to Scotland," he says. "I feel like I'm an adopted Scotchman now.
"The fans come up to me and say a lot of good things about what I've done with Ricky, bringing him back to the world titles.
"I always come up the week before and I enjoy being around the people there."
Sims can rightfully be proud of his role in rejuvenating Burns, who had been served so well by Billy Nelson when he won the WBO world super-featherweight (130lb) and lightweight (135lb) titles.
Burns' career looked to be on the slide around 2013 and 2014. He had become disillusioned training for fights only for them to be cancelled close to fight night and was embroiled in a costly court case with his former promoter, Frank Warren.
"I think it was mainly down to his weight," says Sims of Burns' travails back then. "This weight now - 10st - suits him down to the ground. He does it easy and he's strong at the weight."
Sims and Burns have been struggling to view footage of Indongo, but from what they have seen, they expect the Namibian to be "really awkward".
"Jose Gonzalez, Terence Crawford - I have been in with some tough, tricky southpaws," says Burns. "I think this could be another of those cases, but I am confident of going out to get the win, just going out to stick it on him right from the start."
Sims is just as upbeat about Burns's chances.
"As long as he is prepared right, which I know he will be, I think he will be the favourite to unify the titles and put himself in the position for a massive unification fight over in the States, hopefully Las Vegas, which is Ricky's second home town, as he calls it. He loves it there," adds the Scot's trainer.
"That's what we'll be looking for and this is just a stepping stone for that fight."