This Saturday on Sky Sports from the SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland, Ricky Burns is back in action and chasing a world title in a third weight class, as he faces former European champion Michele di Rocco of Italy for the vacant WBA junior welterweight belt.
Here's a look at the main event, plus the co-feature, which is for the British title at the same weight.
Ricky Burns vs Michele di Rocco
Record: 39-5-1 (13 KO) ... Streak: W2 ... Last 5: 3-2 ... Last 10: 6-3-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'10" / 70" ... Age: 33
Thoughts: In September 2010, Ricky Burns upset Rocky Martinez to win the WBO super featherweight title. He defended that belt three times before moving up to 135 pounds, winning the interim WBO belt at that weight against Michael Katsidis in 2011, and was elevated to full title status after that, making three successful defenses against Paulus Moses, Kevin Mitchell, and Jose "Chepo" Gonzalez.
But the Gonzalez fight, in May 2013, was the start of a fade from Burns. Still, it's worth looking back and wondering if maybe all of that wasn't a bit overstated. He struggled mightily in that fight before rallying to stop the Puerto Rican after nine rounds. Gonzalez, who led 87-84, officially retired from the fight with a wrist injury, but Burns was truly rallying when the fight ended, and earned the win as much as he could.
The fight was a tough one, and a harbinger for the Scottish fighter. In his next fight, Burns was incredibly lucky to get out with a draw against Ray Beltran, who broke Burns' jaw in the second round and dropped him in the eighth. It was a valiant performance from Burns, but most observers felt Beltran had clearly won, and was robbed of a title win in Glasgow.
Burns' next fight, six months later, was a loss to Terence Crawford. Given what Crawford has become -- a true rising star -- it's not a bad loss at all. He followed that up a bit less than four months later with an upset loss to Dejan Zlaticanin, but Zlaticanin has also become a serious contender at 135 pounds since then -- if anything, Burns and his team may have underestimated a fighter better than anyone really knew at the time.
It's also interesting to note that Burns didn't really take any big time away. He was back three months later to face Alexandre Lepelley, winning an eight-round decision. He did take a short break after that, seven months between fights and a loss in Texas to Omar Figueroa Jr, a tough scrapper where Burns again showed his mettle in defeat, losing points for holding twice in a chippy and somewhat odd -- but very entertaining -- fight refereed by Laurence Cole. In August, he beat Prince Ofotsu, and in November he dropped back down to 135 and knocked out Josh King with a body shot in a fight even nastier than the Figueroa bout.
I'm not arguing that Burns has not had legitimate setbacks, or that he's at the peak of his career, or at the top of his game. I will say, though, that his recent struggles are not exactly a sign that his career is over. At 33, he's not old, and in his last four fights has looked pretty decent, in victory and defeat. At the very least, he has not looked washed-up, or very close to it.
Let's look over the tough fights he's had over that time. Chepo Gonzalez is a really talented fighter, with questionable "heart." Beltran is a rugged lightweight who was fighting at his best around that time. Should Burns have lost? Yes. But would that be a loss that indicates being done? No. We all know how good Terence Crawford is. And Zlaticanin, again, has become a serious contender, and has wins over Petr Petrov (which came before Burns) and most recently Ivan Redkach, who was a hyped prospect. Figueroa is a solid fighter and that fight, both the officiating and scoring, was questionable.
Burns is not elite. He's never been elite. But he was a very good fighter who won world titles at both 130 and 135. On Saturday, he's got a winnable chance to win another one at 140 pounds.
Michele di Rocco
Record: 40-1-1 (18 KO) ... Streak: W23 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'7½" / N/A ... Age: 34
Thoughts: Italy's di Rocco is a 34-year-old veteran and former amateur standout who has done a lot less than a 40-1-1 record might indicate, but he's a solid boxer at a level below the world stage. This fight is a chance for him to score both a career best win and a world title.
As an amateur, di Rocco represented Italy at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, after winning bronze at both the 2001 Mediterranean Games and the 2002 European Amateur Championships. As a professional, he has had a couple of setbacks -- or, well, one setback, and one half a setback via draw. The draw came in his 12th pro fight against Giorgio Marinelli in 2006, a fight where di Rocco was knocked down in the fifth round. He won a rematch six months later.
The loss followed in 2007, when he was stopped in seven by Giuseppe Lauri. Once again, though, di Rocco got another chance, and got the result he wanted, stopping Lauri in the first round of a rematch in 2012.
Since the rematch win over Lauri, di Rocco has stepped up his game pretty nicely, beating Lenny Daws in 2013 to win the vacant European 140-pound title, and defended that successfully against Ville Piispanen, Ruben Nieto, Kasper Bruun, and Alexandre Lepelley, all fighters a level below Burns.
On paper, this is Burns' fight to lose. He's got the superior experience, has been in the ring with better fighters, has better wins, and will have home field advantage in Glasgow. If di Rocco is out of his depth, or by how much, will be what we find out on Saturday. And if I'm wrong, and Burns has slipped further than I think, he just might be good enough to win, even on the road.
Matchup Grade: C+. Not a mismatch on paper, but also not something that most would say should be a world title fight. Still, that's all on perception. di Rocco has won and repeatedly defended the European title. The step up from there is a world title fight. Burns has won belts in two other divisions. It's one of those cases where it doesn't "feel like" a world title matchup to a diehard fan, but actually makes plenty of logical sense. It's also just not a great matchup, but there's nothing wrong with it. Worth a look, if nothing more.
Tyrone Nurse vs Willie Limond
Record: 32-2-1 (6 KO) ... Streak: W1 ... Last 5: 3-1-1 ... Last 10: 8-1-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'11" / N/A ... Age: 26
Thoughts: Nurse isn't a puncher, but he's a tall junior welterweight with good reach, decent skills, and holds the British title. He had two shots to win it last year, drawing with Chris Jenkins in July and then winning the rematch on November 21.
Nurse's lone real loss came against Dave Ryan back in October 2014, a majority decision in a Commonwealth title fight. His other loss was a Prizefighter final against Adil Anwar, a decent fighter (particularly over three rounds), in February 2012.
Nurse has a pretty standard domestic record, the win over Jenkins easily the best of his career. This matchup is right for the level.
Record: 39-4 (11 KO) ... Streak: W5 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 8-2 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'7" / N/A ... Age: 37
Thoughts: Four career losses, all to name fighters. Limond lost to Alex Arthur in 2003, Amir Khan in 2007, Erik Morales in 2010, and Anthony Crolla in 2011. The Glasgow native also doesn't have much by way of wins, though, even with 39 of them to his credit.
Like Nurse, Limond is not a puncher, but did drop Khan, so, you know, yeah, that Canelo matchup was a real great idea. Anyway, his best win came in June 2014, when he beat Curtis Woodhouse by decision to win the British title and unify that with the Commonwealth belt he'd won in 2013 against Eddie Doyle, and defended against Mitch Prince. He also dropped Woodhouse twice.
Limond never did defend the belts after that, which is why Nurse and Jenkins fought for the vacant title last year. In fact, Limond has fought just once since beating Woodhouse, a tune-up bout in January which lasted a minute, so he's only got that for ring time in the last 23 months. That could be a concern, especially given the fact that Nurse is 11 years younger and plenty active.
Matchup Grade: C. Perfectly fine and understandable British title fight. Nurse has the title, Limond never lost it, here we are. Neither of these fighters has world level potential or ability, but this isn't a world level fight.