When Liam Walsh was forced to withdraw (per BoxingScene.com) from his December 15 fight against WBO lightweight champion Ricky Burns, first thoughts went to his health. Fortunately, Walsh (13-0, 10 KO), who suffered a back injury in a car accident, will make a full recovery.
Given Walsh’s positive medical prognosis, attention can now be turned to what happens next for Burns (35-2, 10 KO).
The Scotsman’s title defense is slated to headline a massive London card at the ExCel Arena; on the undercard, super middleweight contender George Groves will defend his Commonwealth super middleweight title against Glen Johnson. Also, former Olympian and rising contender Billy Joe Saunders will fight Nick Blackwell in defense of his Commonwealth middleweight title and for the vacant British strap.
The above-cited BoxingScene.com article states that Burns will still headline the card given its magnitude. But should he?
Under normal circumstances, it would make sound sense for Burns to go through with his third title defense. The fight will take place on a massive stage, and Burns is one of the sport’s hottest fighters. Because of this, it seems wise to sustain this momentum with consistent activity that keeps him in the discussion for big fights.
However, with Adrien Broner dismantling Antonio DeMarco to claim the WBC lightweight title last Saturday, Burns finds himself in anything but straightforward circumstances.
Burns recently told RingTV.com’s Harry Pratt that he is completely focused on his next fight despite the prospect of a looming unification bout against Broner (25-0, 21 KO). As one would expect, Burns is saying all the right things by emphasizing the task at hand.
That said, Burns-Broner is a fight that has to happen by the first quarter of 2013. In an article on boxingnews24.com, Scott Gilfoid notes that Burns could have (or should have) fought Broner when he was the WBO champion at 130 pounds.
Instead of securing the bout, Burns opted to move up to lightweight. Broner, of course, would capture the WBO title Burns left vacant and make one defense before failing to make weight for his second against Vicente Escobedo.
So, while Burns has put the onus on his manager to make a fight with Broner in 2013, fans likely want to see a firmer commitment to this hypothetical matchup. If Burns doesn’t unify titles with Broner at 135, he will be accused of ducking.
The tantalizing fights at 140 pounds also intensify the needs for Burns to secure a bout against Broner immediately. With big names like Juan Manuel Marquez, Lucas Matthysse, Danny Garcia, Brandon Rios and Amir Khan campaigning at junior welterweight, Broner’s stint at 135 figures to be brief.
Of course, this is contingent on Broner winning fights. But after the way he dismantled DeMarco (28-3-1, 21 KO), Broner is well on his way to justifying his preordained status as one of the sport’s future stars.
Other than Burns or IBF champion Miguel Vazquez, the lightweight division lacks recognizable names. The aforementioned names at 140 pounds will bring Broner bigger paydays and the marquee matchups his talent warrants. However, before making this jump, fans and pundits will want to see Broner further prove himself at the championship level.
In the above-cited RingTV article, Burns suggests that Broner could travel to the UK for a unification fight. This, however, seems dubious at best. Still, there is an implicit point to Burns’ assertion; Burns is a massive draw in the UK, and Broner is quickly establishing himself as one of the sport’s most charismatic and marketable fighters. Thus, Burns-Broner stands to be lucrative.
The case for Burns to fight Broner immediately is easy to make, but what about Burns’ options for December 15?
Without intending any disrespect to Liam Walsh, given his inexperience, he seemed to be a stay-busy opponent for Burns. A 13-fight novice—at least for world-level competition—Walsh had managed to claim the Commonwealth 130-pound title and the WBO European lightweight belt. Still, Walsh defeating Burns would have been a massive upset.
When scouring the WBO lightweight rankings, Walsh’s is 13th in the organization’s top 15. Clearly, Burns and his team were looking for a valid mandatory challenger who wouldn’t pose a major threat to the prospect of a Burns-Broner unification bout. Walsh has the makings of an excellent fighter, but challenging Burns would have been a massive jump in class.
Top contender Jose A. Gonzalez (21-0, 16 KO) does not currently have a fight scheduled and could be an option for Burns (though he did fight on October 6). Sergio Thompson (25-2, 23 KO) fought on October 27, which places him out of the running, and Sharif Bogere (23-0, 15 KO), according to ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael, had to withdraw from a WBA title fight against Richard Abril due to an Achilles injury.
Gavin Rees (37-1-1, 18 KO) would have been an exciting option, but he has a quality fight scheduled for December 8 against domestic rival John Murray. Coupled with this frustration is that Burns has already defeated Paulus Moses (29-2, 19 KO) and Kevin Mitchell (33-2, 24 KO). This effectively eliminates over a third of the WBO top-15.
Given the lack of exciting options for Burns, would it be smarter (in principle) to forgo his December 15 fight and risk losing some of his momentum?
Since winning his first world title, Burns contested his next five fights either three or four months apart. However, Burns waited just over six months before his last bout against Kevin Mitchell and produced his most complete and dominant performance. Burns has shown that he can work through a long layoff.
Since Broner won his first world title, he has had three, five and four-month gaps between fights. Assuming Broner is ready to fight in four months, he could theoretically be fit for Burns by the middle of March. For Burns, this would mean another six-month gap between fights.
This is probably pushing the limits of how long Burns wants to remain inactive. That said, it is the same amount of time he was idle before destroying Mitchell.
Principles and business rarely mesh. Burns will defend his title on December 15 in a fight that will sell well and be a huge event despite the lack of a marquee opponent. It would be ideal if Burns went directly into a fight against Broner; let’s just hope that nothing derails the prospect of this bout.