Top Takeaways from Ricky Burns vs. Dejan Zlaticanin
Friday night proved disastrous for former two-weight world champion Ricky Burns, who dropped a split decision to little-known but unbeaten Montenegro lightweight Dejan Zlaticanin.
Burns was dropped hard from a wild left hook in Round 1 within the first minute of the action and did well to get up and regroup having been caught cold.
Even so, the Scot lost more of the early rounds, and although he rallied a bit and won his share of the later rounds, he could not recover enough to overturn the deficit.
The scores were all 115-113 with Zlaticanin getting the nod from the neutral U.S. judge, Gerald Ritter, and Montenegro's Predrag Aleksic and Burns up on the third card belonging to England's John Keane.
There were several fairly even rounds with Burns looking the better fighter in the centre of the ring, but too often he allowed himself to be backed up on the ropes where he covered up and took shots.
Overall, Zlaticanin landed the more eye-catching punches, and whilst you could argue for a draw, the overseas fighter did enough to deserve the victory.
Here are the top takeaways from Burns-Zlaticanin.
1. Burns Looks Finished at the Top Level
This was Ricky Burns' fourth straight underwhelming performance, spanning fights against Jose Gonzalez, Ray Beltran, Terence Crawford and now Dejan Zlaticanin.
Before Friday, you could make excuses for Burns, and because he's a likeable and dedicated professional, people did. Even the bookmakers were still pricing Burns as a heavy favourite versus Zlaticanin, and they don't act on sentiment.
Gonzalez was an unknown, tricky fighter who Burns ultimately made quit. Against Beltran, Burns had his jaw broken and showed great courage to fight on to a draw. Crawford is a possible pound-for-pound star, and there's no shame losing to him.
If you accepted those kind interpretations of Burns' previous three fights then you still expected him to comfortably see off Zlaticanin, a fringe world-level guy who had never fought outside of Eastern Europe.
But sadly, the truth is that Burns looked poor against Gonzalez, Beltran and Crawford, and eventually the truth had to catch up with him. Nobody can still deny it.
Burns is 31 years old, which still sounds comparatively young in an era when Floyd Mayweather is arguably the world's best boxer at age 37, and Bernard Hopkins is still collecting title belts at 49.
However, historically, 31 was considered old for a fighter, and that's the way you have to look at Burns, who now has 41 fights to his name and four defeats.
Could Burns find a new lease of life and return to his best form and world-title contention? It's not impossible. But it's not likely.
Right now, Ricky Burns looks done at the top level. And that's not a snap opinion based on one night.
2. Burns May No Longer Be the Best in Britain
When Ricky Burns blasted Kevin Mitchell out in four rounds at the back end of 2012, he proved himself to be Britain's top lightweight by far, squashing the claim of his nearest challenger.
Last year, it was thought that promoter Eddie Hearn was angling another of his fighters, Anthony Crolla, for a world-title shot against Burns, and many thought that an unacceptable mismatch given what Burns had achieved and how little Crolla had then proved.
But while Burns has declined, Crolla put in a career-best performance this April, weathering an early storm from John Murray before breaking down the former world-title challenger and stopping him in Round 10. There has since been talk of Crolla stepping up to face WBA champion Richar Abril.
Kevin Mitchell bounced himself back into global contention with a good win on the Carl Froch-George Groves undercard, stopping the tough, unbeaten Ghislain Maduma in the penultimate round and putting himself in the frame for an IBF title shot against Miguel Vazquez.
Mitchell is a famously erratic fighter, and given his last effort against Burns, it would be difficult to confidently predict a win for the Londoner in a rematch.
However, the reliable Crolla who was steely, busy and boxed smartly against Murray would likely have beaten the current incarnation of Burns.
It is probably unlikely that we will see Burns-Crolla or Burns-Mitchell II if the other two are genuinely on the cusp of world-title shots because there would be little incentive for them to jeopardise their positions by fighting Burns.
Burns would still be expected to beat the next tier of British lightweights, such as British champion Derry Mathews and young guns Tommy Coyle and Terry Flanagan, but it is hard to imagine the former world-titlist wanting to drop to that level.
Sadly, if he wants to guarantee a return to winning ways, they may be the sort of opponents he needs to face.
3. Thankfully, the Judging Was Fair
When Ricky Burns unjustly escaped with a draw and his title against American contender Ray Beltran last year despite having been poor all night and floored in Round 8, the reputation of British boxing suffered.
Historically, Britain have had a good reputation for fairness when foreign fighters come to these shores to face our top talent in contrast to Germany, which had a terrible reputation until fairly recently, with Sven Ottke the emblematic protected champion.
Burns was developing that kind of reputation given that earlier in his career the cards were too wide in his favour against Australian slugger Michael Katsidis in 2012, and, although Terence Crawford got the win last time out, it was hard to see how two judges scored four rounds to Burns.
So it was with some trepidation that we waited for the judges' scores after a fight with Zlaticanin which was close enough to argue either way, even if you had to think the away fighter was deserving of the result.
Such was Burns' record for generosity from the officials that on Betfair's in-play betting, Zlaticanin could still be backed at around 5-1 during Round 12. Clearly the smart money thought the Montenegrin was unlikely to find the favour of the judges.
In the end, it was a split decision, but the split went the right way, and Zlaticanin can return to Montenegro with his perfect 19-0 record intact.
The sport of boxing will probably always get criticism for the way in which the house fighter or the money fighter tends to get the benefit of the doubt, but if you examine fighters' careers in whole, these injustices are thankfully usually the exception rather than the rule.
Ricky Burns can no longer be discussed internationally in the same terms as Sven Ottke, a guy who relied on unjust officials to extend his run at the top. (Although he's no longer an unbeaten world champion like Ottke either.)
More importantly, British boxing recovers some of its old credibility.
4. That Was Not Great Matchmaking
Ricky Burns was a Warren fighter and now works with Hearn. And after the younger man called the Warren-orchestrated Nathan Cleverly-Sergey Kovalev fight "possibly one of the worst pieces of matchmaking I have ever seen," that boot may now be on the other foot after Burns' demise.
Admittedly, it is always easy to criticise the matchmaking after a home fighter loses to a relatively unknown opponent, especially when there were other options. But this time you could see it coming.
From the preview: "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 was unbeaten, and an unbeaten fighter always has that edge about him—he's a southpaw, and Burns has never beaten a top southpaw. And the Montenegrin came with little international reputation, so a win wouldn't even mean all that much.
The rationale behind facing Zlaticanin seemed to be that he was ranked with the WBC, and given Hearn has said he thinks WBC champion Omar Figueroa is the weakest in the division, he was seeking to angle his man in that direction.
But in positioning Burns toward Figueroa, Zlaticanin may have been underestimated, even though his best pair of wins had proved him a more than respectable opponent.
In fairness to Hearn, Burns was looking to return to world-title contention, and no world-class fighter should be losing to Zlaticanin. If a fighter is that much below the level he aspires toward, there is little a promoter can do to overcome the deficit.
Even so, given how well Warren guided Burns, twice delivering him winnable world-title shots in Glasgow as well as catching Michael Katsidis on the slide, Hearn may now regret his words from earlier in the week.
5. Burns Came Back Too Soon
Again, it is easy to say this after the event, but go back to the aftermath of the Crawford fight in March, and you find Scottish ex-champion Alex Arthur advising Burns, via BBC Sport:
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.
Instead, Burns had his shortest layoff since 2011, returning just over three months prior to his previous defeat.
Beyond that, the Scot had taken one of the other recommendations floating about by changing trainer from Billy Nelson to Tony Sims.
This had no discernible effect with Burns making exactly the same errors he had under Nelson—sitting back on the ropes and taking shots, leaving himself open to wide left hooks and failing to set a rhythm.
Surely a new trainer needs more time than Sims was afforded if he is to have an appreciable influence?
For example, it was noticeable how much Amir Khan benefited from a year out of the ring between the Julio Diaz and Luis Collazo fights to consolidate the coaching of his new trainer, Virgil Hunter. A year out of the ring is excessive, but you get the idea.
The biggest problem for Burns is that he simply no longer looks like the fighter who enjoyed his best nights against Roman Martinez, Michael Katsidis and Kevin Mitchell.
He doesn't work with the same confidence, his output is lower and his punches aren't as crisp. At 31, you would not think the decline is purely physical, so there are genuine psychological questions.
Speaking to IFL TV after the fight, Hearn said that Burns' reaction was to go back to the gym and work harder. That's not it. He needs to work smarter and figure out what's holding him back.
If he has just plain lost it, his choice is to retire or accept a future at a lower level. But perhaps a proper break in which he asks the right questions of himself, especially the mental ones, could help Burns unlock his best form again.
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