What's Next for Ricky Burns After Losing His Title to Terence Crawford

James GarnerContributor IMarch 10, 2014

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MARCH 1 : Ricky Burns and Terence Crawford clash during the WBO World Lightweight Championship Boxing match at the Glasgow SECC on March 1 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

After holding a world title since 2010, it may take Ricky Burns some time to adjust to his new status as a former champion after he lost the WBO lightweight crown to Terence Crawford.

Although Crawford was a formidable opponent, Burns looked lacklustre for the third fight in a row, and you have to wonder where he goes from here.

Burns was bullish in the immediate aftermath, talking up a rematch with Crawford and a desire to get straight back in the gym to continue his career.

Most ridiculously, the Scot told the Daily Record, “I’m only 31 in April. I’ve got another 10 years left in me.”

Given how much worse Burns looked against Crawford, Raymundo Beltran and Jose Gonzalez in comparison to earlier fights against Kevin Mitchell and Michael Katsidis, it would be more sensible to be talking about retirement than 10 more years.

That's not to say Burns should retire—something that has precisely zero percent chance of happening. Burns may be on the slide, but he has not taken any serious beatings and, whilst he has made decent money, he hasn't made so much that there would be no point continuing his career.

The best argument for him to stop would be to preserve his legacy and reputation. If he drops from world level to European level, or even down to British level, his brief sortie at the top may begin to look like an aberration.

Fellow Scot and former champion Alex Arthur has weighed in with some advice for Burns, as reported by the BBC:

He has to have a lengthy break away, because I think part of the reason he was flat and lacklustre on Saturday was because he spends too much time in the gym, boxing and training.

Whether or not Arthur's analysis is correct, the basic message is sound. Still 30, Burns could afford to take six months to a year off without damaging his long-term prospects.

There's no doubt that Burns just hasn't looked his best recently, and you have to think he needs to do something different to recapture his top form. Taking time out to let his body rest and his mind relax would rule out fatigue as a possible cause for his dip.

Frank Warren said something interesting about Burns in his column that rang true: "He almost appeared relieved to forfeit the title." The exact psychology behind that is hard to unravel, but perhaps Burns has been on a steep treadmill from which he can now take a step back.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 11:  Eddie Hearn (left) poses with Ricky Burns , the World Boxing Organisation lightweight champion, after revealing Burns as his latest signing to the Matchroom Boxing stable at a press conference at the Grosvenor House Hotel on M
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Although boxers are often too quick to change trainers seconds after defeats, given that Burns has been subpar for three fights, it is something he must consider.

Whatever the problems have been, there is little evidence that trainer Billy Nelson has been able to put his finger on them, let alone devise the solutions.

The biggest question mark over Burns is psychological. Even before breaking his jaw against Beltran, he was looking tentative and uneasy against Gonzalez. Quite what underpins this remains a mystery, but it is one that it would do well for Burns to solve.

There has been little talk of Burns potentially moving up to light-welterweight, just five pounds heavier than where he has been fighting. At 5'10", he certainly has the frame for it, and when he moved from super-featherweight to lightweight, he then looked significantly stronger and sturdier.

However, the light-welterweight division, topped by Danny Garcia, Ruslan Provodnikov and Lucas Matthysse, is much tougher than lightweight—if Burns' ambition is to reclaim a world title, he is better to stay where he is.

Talk of a rematch with Crawford is off the mark because it is hard to see how Burns could possibly overturn the deficit, especially without home advantage.

Because back-to-back losses are so damaging to a boxer's standing, even another bout with Beltran would likely be too ambitious as a comeback fight.

Burns should therefore look to the domestic scene for an opponent. Anthony Crolla had been trying to position himself for a shot at Burns' title, and the winner of Crolla versus John Murray would be a good test.

Potential Opponent Anthony Crolla
Potential Opponent Anthony CrollaAlex Livesey/Getty Images

Another option would be Gavin Rees, who is past his best at 33 but still game and well conditioned. Right now, Burns needs to beat the likes of a Crolla or a Rees, and beat them well, to prove he's still a league above British level.

Beyond that, Burns would be better to target a belt-holder not named Terence Crawford. Talk is that promoter Eddie Hearn might coax IBF champion Miguel Vazquez over to fight London's Kevin Mitchell.

If Mitchell sprung an upset, then a rematch with Burns would be huge; if Vazquez triumphed, then it might be possible to bring him to Scotland to give Burns home advantage.

In general, the noises coming from Burns, Nelson and Hearn are not too encouraging. They seem reluctant to acknowledge that Burns has lost a step. If they therefore put Burns back in too quickly and against too strong an opponent, they may do serious damage to his long-term prospects.

But perhaps once more time has past, Team Burns will reappraise the situation and devise a more pragmatic plan. Arthur's advice to take a break is well judged.

It is hard to believe that a fighter like Burns who has always stayed in shape and never been badly beaten up should be finished aged 30. However, unless he is carefully handled over the next 18 months, there is a danger that his boxing story could come to a premature conclusion.