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When Ricky Burns stopped Kevin Mitchell in the fourth round of their September 2012 fight, it looked like the Scotsman had really arrived in the lightweight division.
Burns had already beaten Michael Katsidis at the weight but it looked like a shop-worn version of the popular Australian—still very game but not quite as sharp as he had been.
Going into the Mitchell fight, there were still many who doubted Burns' ability and he was far from a heavy favourite, even though Mitchell had previously failed where Burns succeeded against Katsidis.
But Burns blew him away, looking big at the weight, strong, powerful and irrepressible.
Then after an eight-month layoff, which saw him move promoters to Matchroom, Burns returned against the unheralded Puerto Rican Jose Gonzalez. Incredibly, Burns was totally outboxed for six rounds and in huge danger of losing his title.
Burns turned up the heat in Round 7 and the fist fight that ensued drained Gonzalez's tank so much that he ultimately failed to come out after Round 9. Burns showed his strong will to win but exposed vulnerabilities opponents will be eager to exploit.
In September last year, Burns was lucky to escape with his title after a draw with Raymundo Beltran, which most people thought was a clear win for the Mexican.
Again, Burns looked predictable, coming forward in straight lines and he was picked off easily at times. His excellent jab, that did so much to overcome Katsidis and Mitchell, simply wasn't the weapon it had been.
Burns is not especially old at 30 but he has been an active fighter and has been in draining contests, perhaps often operating a little higher than his natural talent level. If he has genuinely declined, Crawford might make easy work of him.
The other theory is that after the Mitchell fight, Burns was disappointed that a big unification showdown couldn't be organised; he came close to getting the chance to fight the IBF champion Miguel Vasquez in London—and that might have affected his training.
It would be understandable if Burns lacked motivation coming to fights with the unknown Gonzalez and unglamorous Beltran. That's the optimistic interpretation for his boosters, because their man has certainly looked off the pace in his most recent outings.