Dave Oakes previews Saturday's lightweight clash between Ricky Burns and Kevin Mitchell.
If you had asked most boxing fans five years ago who they thought was most likely to become a two weight world champion out of Ricky Burns and Kevin Mitchell, I’d hazard a guess that at least 99% would’ve said Mitchell.
Going back to 2007, Burns had just lost against Carl Johanneson in his second attempt at the British super-featherweight title. It was a devastating defeat, Burns found himself on the floor three times as Johanneson battered the Scot from pillar to post on the way to securing a wide points decision.
A few people wrote Burns off after the fight, believing he’d struggle to win a domestic title in his career. He’d already been well beaten by Alex Arthur in a previous tilt at the British title (along with the European and Commonwealth titles) and was now looking to be on his way to being viewed as someone who might be used in the future as a measuring stick for up-and-coming prospects rather than being a prospect himself.
Whilst that was a harsh assessment - Burns was still a work in progress and the Arthur fight came far too soon – no one could’ve foreseen the remarkable turnaround in his career. Eighteen months after the Johanneson fight, Burns won the Commonwealth title against Osumanu Akaba; he defended it three times before taking a world title shot against the undefeated Roman Martinez.
Again, Burns was written off, this time with good reason, Martinez looked a near impossible task. The heavy-handed Puerto Rican had decimated Nicky Cook to win the title and looked as though he’d be a level above Burns. That prediction looked to be correct when Burns was floored heavily in the first round, astonishingly Burns not only managed to get back to his feet and see out the round, he then turned in the performance of his life to outbox and outpoint Martinez.
It’s fair to say Burns’ three defences of the title were against below par opposition, Andreas Evensen, Joseph Laryea and the shell of Nicky Cook didn’t pose any problems. Just when the doubters were starting to re-emerge, Burns announced he was moving up to lightweight to take on Michael Katsidis for an interim title. Once again he produced a superb performance, Katsidis barely won a round, Burns’ jab, speed, discipline and work rate were phenomenal and the doubters were silenced once again.
Having secured the full title via a points victory over Paulus Moses, Burns now takes on Mitchell, a fighter whom so many expected to be a world champion by now but had seen his early progress slowed in recent times due to a brutal loss by Katsidis and a number of personal problems.
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Mitchell had amassed a record of 31-0 before facing Katsidis in May 2010. He was the favourite going into the fight; he had hometown advantage with a massive crowd cheering him on at Upton Park. It was supposed to be the night Mitchell moved into the big league, unfortunately for Mitchell, it was a night where everything went wrong.
Mitchell’s game plan went out of the window after a decent opening round, from there on it was little more than target practice for Katsidis, who stopped the Londoner in round three with a series of clubbing hooks that robbed Mitchell of his legs and his senses.
It came to light in the aftermath of the fight that Mitchell’s preparations had been hampered by problems outside the ring. The twelve months that followed saw Mitchell’s problems worsen, he was on the verge of wasting the talent he’d got and was looking like he would become another ‘could’ve been’.
In July last year, having been out of the ring for fourteen months, Mitchell took on the unbeaten John Murray. There were some serious questions about Mitchell going into the fight but he answered them all with a breathtaking performance. He knew he couldn’t go to war with the bull-like Murray, so he boxed sensibly, picking Murray off as he came in and only standing toe-to-toe when he had to. He gradually broke Murray down, dropping and stopping him the eighth round.
Mitchell has only boxed once since - a routine points victory over Felix Lora in February. He’s said that he’s been razor sharp in training, with the Tibbs’s grinding him into fantastic shape. He’ll need to be in top shape come Saturday, Burns is one of the fittest boxers around; he hardly puts any weight on inbetween fights and is known for his dedication in training.
Fitness could well play a big part in determining the outcome of the fight, it’s hard to envisage an early stoppage for either fighter. Mitchell is a big puncher but Burns has got a solid chin and good recuperation skills. I feel both are at a similar level skill wise, although they box in different styles. Burns sets everything up with a rapier like jab, whereas Mitchell is more of a hooker, although he does posses a great jab himself when he decides to use it. The biggest difference in skill seems to be that Mitchell is more fluid and puts his combinations together better.
The main weaknesses for Mitchell is his mental make-up and application - he’s exceptional when he’s on form and sticks to the game plan like he did against Murray, and also against Breidis Prescott in 2009, the trouble starts when he allows himself to get dragged into a war. It wasn’t only the Katsidis fight where Mitchell lost the plot, he needlessly went to war with Carl Johanneson, a fight which he won but had to walk through some big shots to do so.
There aren’t any massive weaknesses for Burns, he doesn’t posses a great deal of punch power but he isn’t the kind of fighter that goes looking for knockouts anyway. He used to go back in straight lines a lot but seems to have eradicated that somewhat, although he still occasionally does it.
It’ll be interesting to see how Mitchell approaches the fight, I’ve got a feeling he may try to bully Burns to the ropes and slow him down with body shots. Burns will do what he always does – he’ll be jabbing and moving, patiently waiting for an opportunity to land a hook, or more likely, a straight right. Burns is very comfortable doing what he does; he has faith in his own ability and never seems to fall into the trap of fighting the way his opponent wants him to.
The champion should enjoy Mitchell coming forward as it’ll provide him with more openings to take advantage of. I doubt Burns has got the power to stop Mitchell, unless it’s a late stoppage after a very one-sided fight, which is highly unlikely. Mitchell has got the power to hurt Burns, although it’s also more likely to be a later rounds stoppage due to accumulation rather than a one-punch knockout.
This is a 50-50 fight, Burns is rightly the betting favourite, his recent performances have justified that, he’s performed consistently well in all of his world title bouts. With that in mind, Burns should be the pick here. The thing is, I’ve always thought Mitchell was a little bit special, he’s got his faults but when he’s on form, he really is an exceptional fighter. I’ve got a feeling he’ll produce a performance similar to the John Murray one, I’m not sure he’ll stop Burns but I believe he’ll do enough to take it on points, even in Burns’ backyard.