Ricky Burns (37-4-1, 11 KO) defeated Alexandre Lepelley (17-2-1, 3 KO) on points, 79-71, in his first bout in the light welterweight division at the First Direct Arena in Leeds, England on Saturday.
Fans were hoping for a show from the 31-year-old Scot after a series of unimpressive fights, with the last two ending in losses, but Burns failed to truly convince against an opponent who, on paper at least, should have presented little challenge.
The unheralded Frenchman showed some bite in the opening round with solid combinations to the body, but Burns took charge with a solid jab and scored a knockdown inside the final two seconds with a sharp right hook, via Behind the Gloves:
Burns' advantage in reach clearly showed in Round 2, but to his credit, Lepelley refused to back down. The 32-year-old had no problems turning the bout into a brawl, picking his moments to launch combinations.
Fighting at 140 pounds appeared to suit Burns, whose power punches appeared to pack a little more heat than they did earlier in his career. ByTheMin Boxing liked what it saw from the former lightweight and featherweight champion:
Lepelley found some success with his uppercut, as Burns kept the fight in close quarters, negating the advantage his range gave him in the third round.
The Frenchman looked like an easy target in the first, but by the time the fourth round was over, he had established himself as a worthy opponent. A lack of power meant Burns comfortably survived any combinations, but good head movement from Lepelley kept him safe from the Scot's power shots.
Behind the Gloves also saw the Frenchman land some punches in the fourth:
Burns returned to the jab in the fifth but had lost his rhythm, hardly landing any significant punches.
Lepelley landed a massive overhand right that seemed to momentarily stun Burns in the sixth round, but he couldn't capitalise on the momentum. The fight started losing its pace, and ByTheMin Boxing was not happy:
The Frenchman received a warning for an apparent head-butt in the seventh, to his dismay. Burns' lead on the cards was significant at that point, however, and heading into the final round, Lepelley needed a stoppage to come away with the win.
The final round went off without a hitch, as the judges turned to the cards, scoring the fight 79-71 for Burns.
Before the bout, Burns told the Daily Record's Michael Gannon this fight was a must-win for him:
The belts are in the same place as they have always been – in the spare room gathering dust.
They used to come out for Press conferences but I have never been one to sit and look at them.
There’s plenty of time to do that when you hang the gloves up but I have no intention of doing that any time soon.
I know what would happen to my career if I lost – it would put me in an impossible position – so I am not even going to think about that prospect.
He needed to make an impression against a journeyman fighter with limited power, and on Saturday, he failed to do so. Burns didn't look in the greatest shape, and after a solid opening round, his accuracy and timing simply weren't there.
The fans in the arena were disappointed, and so was ByTheMin Boxing:
Burns' move to the light welterweight division and Saturday's bout were seen as tactics to put him in position for a shot at a European belt, and in order to achieve that, he should have stopped Lepelley or at least won in dominant fashion.
A move back down to the lightweight division seems like a smart idea, but after yet another uninspiring performance, a shot at a title doesn't appear to be any closer for Burns. He walked away with a deserved and much-needed win on Saturday, but nothing more.