In Glasgow, Scotland, reigning WBO lightweight champion Ricky Burns served notice that he is an elite champion, as he retained his belt with a spectacular fourth round TKO over hard-hitting Kevin Mitchell.
The fight figured to be contested on relatively even terms. While an ill-prepared Mitchell (33-2, 24 KO) had been stopped in his previous bid for a world title against Michael Katsidis, he seemed to carry an advantage in punching power over Burns (35-2, 10 KO), a two-division champion who was fighting in front of a raucous home crowd.
Burns was thought to be the slicker boxer and more effective tactician. The way the fight unfolded showed that Burns has elevated his overall game to a new level. After a feeling-out process in the first round, during which Mitchell fought well by circling from the outside and firing his straight right off of his jab, Burns began to systematically take over.
In the second stanza, Burns kept Mitchell on his back foot with a two-fisted attack. He pinned the English challenger on the ropes and unloaded with combinations and overhand rights. Mitchell was game, but Burns seemed to be gaining confidence as he began to control the ring’s geography.
It was Burns’ mix of a straight and clubbing overhand rights that consistently halted Mitchell’s progress and allowed Burns to move forward to launch his combinations. Mitchell often found himself retreating, which was a result of Burns' precision and accuracy.
In the third round both men traded in the centre of the ring to the delight of the crowd. However, Burns landed a cracking right hand that backed Mitchell up against the ropes. With Mitchell pinned, Burns was again able to advance and plant himself for combinations. Mitchell, in perhaps an effort to convince himself that the blows didn’t hurt, beat his chest once Burns backed off.
It was clear, however, that Burns was in command heading into the fourth. Though Mitchell started the round off with some effective work to the body, Burns again backed Mitchell into a corner, a surprising trend given Mitchell’s supposed power advantage. After exchanging straight right hands, Burns swept in with a left hook, detonating the punch off of Mitchell’s jaw for a huge knockdown.
Mitchell, who backed up into the punch, fell hard on his backside. He bravely made it to unsteady feet. Burns smelled blood and pounced on Mitchell, landing a series of punches before a sledgehammer overhand right sent Mitchell to the canvas for the second time.
Mitchell again beat the count and, with the round nearing its end, appeared as if he might survive. Despite working against the clock, Burns again forced Mitchell to retreat to the ropes where he unloaded a series of massive hooks that prompted referee Terry O’Connor to intervene with only seconds left in the round.
While Mitchell is undoubtedly disappointed and must again go back to the drawing board, Burns appears in position for major business in the lightweight division. With the win and stoppage, Burns has cemented his status as a viable option for a unification fight. Bouts with the likes of Miguel Vazquez, Antonio DeMarco or Adrien Broner would be tantalizing.
Ideally, Burns won’t simply continue to make mandatory WBO title defenses. At 29 and with his abundance of skills, Burns deserves a high-profile unification fight to make proper use of what is shaping up as an excellent prime.
Carl Frampton vs. Steve Molitor
In a fight for minor titles, but one that was highly significant in its own right, Carl Frampton dominated former two-time world champion Steve Molitor with shocking ease.
In scoring a sixth round TKO over a perhaps shot Molitor (34-3, 12 KO), Frampton (15-0, 10 KO) was flawless. He consistently backed Molitor up against the ropes and found a home for his thudding straight right hand at will.
Frampton’s poise and measured commitment to his game plan was perhaps most impressive, and he never appeared overzealous, even with Molitor reeling for most of the fight. Molitor, on the other hand, seemed on unsteady feet and continually slipped to the canvas amidst multiple legitimate knockdowns.
Molitor seemed unable to mount any significant offense or put his combinations together. More telling was that Molitor fought exclusively off of his back foot, and Frampton’s punches forced him into perpetual retreat. When Frampton was able to pin Molitor against the ropes—which was often—he exploded with combinations to the head and body. Frampton's straight right hand and variety of hooks were especially effective.
Frampton seemed unperturbed by Molitor’s southpaw stance as he moved well and effectively landed straight shots down the middle of Molitor’s leaky defense. In the sixth round, Molitor started off well, but it appeared as if Frampton was merely biding his time. Sure enough, Frampton again cornered Molitor and unleashed a decisive combination of hooks that forced Molitor to crumple to his knees.
Having been cut and thoroughly beaten, the referee decided enough was enough, and the stoppage appeared merciful. Molitor, while brave, had no chance of winning. The fact that Frampton made a skilled two-time world champion with 10 career world-title bouts look like a novice is a scary prospect.
With only 15 professional fights, Frampton is light years ahead of what his record would suggest. After a few more quality fights over the next year, expect Frampton to challenge for, and eventually win, a world title. Despite being in a division currently ruled by Nonito Donaire, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Abner Mares, Frampton’s championship prospects seem to be a virtual lock.