Ricky Burns vs. Dejan Zlaticanin: The Return of Burns or the End of Him?

James GarnerContributor IJune 27, 2014

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MARCH 1 : Boxer Ricky Burns  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

Scotland's No. 1 fighter, Ricky Burns, returns to action tonight on the comeback trail just over three months after losing his WBO lightweight belt to unbeaten American stand-out Terence Crawford.

His opponent is the unheralded Dejan Zlaticanin, from Montenegro, who is yet to fight outside of Eastern Europe—but who has built a cosmetically appealing record of 18-0, with 13 stoppage wins.

A minor WBC title will be on the line with Burns' promoter Eddie Hearn hoping to land a future bout between his charge and the young WBC champion Omar Figueroa, who Hearn has called "probably the weakest champion" in the division.

Of the four main bodies, Zlaticanin is only ranked with the WBC but he is a respectable 20th on BoxRec's computerised rankings. The bookmakers are less taken with the Montenegrin, with some pricing Burns as strong as a 10-1 on favourite. 

The away fighter does have one good name on his record, a win over Petr Petrov last year. Petrov has since won three straight fights in the US to claim ESPN's 2014 Boxcino Lightweight Tournament, thus rising to 10th with BoxRec.

The victory over Petrov was one of three occasions on which Zlaticanin has gone the full 12-round distance, so inexperience should not be a handicap for him tonight.

However, while Zlaticanin's best wins have both come on home territory in Montenegro, he will face a very different atmosphere fighting the Scot at Glasgow's Braehead Arena—that stands as a big advantage to Burns.

As for Burns, this is a relatively quick turnaround from his March defeat to Crawford, a fight in which CompuBox records that Burns landed only 76 of the 552 punches he threw, compared with 213 from 811 for the American.

Before that, Burns came away with a generous draw in September last year versus Raymundo Beltran, a fight in which the Scot suffered a broken jaw in Round 2 before bravely going the distance.

The Crawford performance was a third straight poor display by Burns, having previously been behind on the cards to the virtually unranked Jose Gonzalez prior to the Puerto Rican retiring after nine rounds.

Burns has made one significant change since the Crawford bout by switching trainer from Billy Nelson to Tony Sims, and therefore he has been training down in Essex away from his family.

Sims was already in Burns' corner alongside Nelson on the night of the the Crawford fight so it is hard to believe he is going to be a revolutionary influence.

The man himself backed up that sentiment, telling the Daily Telegraph"I haven't changed anything in his boxing style, he is 31 now, he's late in his career and I am just trying to add tiny things to his style that I hope will be noticeable in this fight."

The only unquestionable positive of working with Sims is the high-quality sparring available in a gym that houses Kevin Mitchell, with other good names including Olympic champion Luke Campbell also in the mix during preparations.

For all the bluster about putting Burns back in line for world titles, BBC Scotland's Richard Wilson summed up his true situation well, writing that, "A series of opponents may yet lie in wait for Ricky Burns but, in reality, he is fighting against decline."

A certain tentativeness last time out against Crawford (throwing over 30 percent fewer punches than his opponent) was blamed in some quarters on the hangover effects of the broken jaw but had been apparent as early as the Gonzalez fight, thus pre-dating the injury.

In truth, it is hard to pinpoint just why Burns' career has gone off the rails since his impressive wins in 2011 and 2012 against Michael Katsidis and Kevin Mitchell.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 22:  Ricky Burns knocks down Kevin Mitchell during the WBO World Lightweight Championship match at SECC on September 22, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

His best performances worked off a sharp jab, followed by a relatively high output of punches, and coupled with his being hard to hurt, and harder to discourage.

In his last three fights, Burns has just looked rather lacklustre. At only 31, age should not be working against him but perhaps on his best nights he plain overperformed—and he simply cannot replicate that energy and precision on a long-term basis.

You might have anticipated a longer lay-off after Crawford to regroup and rejuvenate but instead Burns is being thrown straight back in.

Despite the betting odds, this is a fight Burns could lose if he is as flat as he has been of late. Zlaticanin may have been hand-picked by the Scot's team but he is a live body and has every motivation so a half-hearted Burns could see this slip away from him again.

Zlaticanin is a southpaw which can always be tricky but Burns' most conspicuous advantage will be height and reach over his stocky foe—if he can establish his jab that may help him coast to a decision win.

Promoter Hearn, as quoted by The Mirror, has acknowledged that even that might not be enough, saying, "Yes, he's got to win, but he's got to win in style."

"We're looking for a statement. To show the world that Ricky Burns is still here and he wants his title back."

So far the Scottish fight crowd, who have not had a lot to cheer on the world stage in recent years, have been fiercely loyal to Burns, but can even they tolerate four straight mediocre performances?

The fact that Burns attracts good numbers at the gate—he is one of the few marketable fighters in the lightweight division worldwide—greatly enhances his chances of landing another title shot, possibly even in his own backyard once more.

But first he really does need to put on a performance against Zlaticanin, and mark an end to the strange funk that has blighted his recent outings.

If Burns cannot recover his best form, then there is a very real possibility of an upset, one which would really put his career into no-man's land, and which would question the rationale behind such a quick return.

So, at best, this fight could indeed mark an encouraging return to winning ways for Burns—at worst, it could all but end his long run at the top level of the sport.