Ricky Burns’ decision to abandon his super featherweight belt – and with that, a date on HBO – proved to be a wise gamble.
The Scot immediately made his presence felt in the lightweight division on the strength of his upset win over Michael Katsidis in their 12-round main event at Wembley Arena on Saturday night in London, England.
Both fighters weighed in at the lightweight limit of 135 lb. for their highly anticipated showdown, which aired live on UK’s Boxnation.
Burns wisely came out boxing, shooting his jab and using his height and reach advantages to his benefit. Katsidis found a way inside early on and was able score with right hands upstairs, but was less effective once Burns was able to reestablish distance between the two.
Katsidis closed the gap considerably in the second round, scoring on the inside with left hooks and uppercuts. Burns absorbed well, and by the third round was once again able to stick and move. Katsidis ate a few right hands that had his head snapping back before firing back in return, but Burns was able to counter with left hooks to the body.
More of the same threatened to transpire in the fourth, until Katsidis was able to pin down Burns and wail away at his rail thin frame. Burns took it well and returned fire, but was outgunned for the first time in the fight.
Burns’ corner was displeased with the threat of momentum shifting, demanding their fighter shoot his jab over Katsidis’ guard to prevent the Aussie from getting off his punches. The strategy worked to a degree, but the disparity in power was telling as Katsidis continued to charge forward.
The middle rounds saw both fighters trade away, with Burns surprisingly holding his own every step of the way. Katsidis was the busier of the two, and also managed to constantly corner Burns, who would instinctively cover up and stop punching whenever under fire.
Catching an earful in between rounds, Burns came out in the ninth returning to what worked best. Katsidis was unable to adjust for the first time in several rounds, but fixed that problem in the 10th as Burns spent most of the frame in retreat and on the defensive.
As was the case throughout the fight, Burns managed to recover every time the fight threatened to get away from him. The lanky Scot bounced back well to box his way to a clear cut 11th round, which ultimately proved to be the difference on the cards.
Katsidis came out for the 12th and final round fighting like a man who knew he needed a knockout to win. The two-time lineal title challenger unloaded with non-stop punching, but was a bit overzealous in his attack as referee Phil Edwards twice warned him for rabbit punching.
Another flurry had Burns in trouble, but he punched his way out just enough to cause a break in the action, prompting a time out to have a large strand of loose tape clipped from his glove. Katsidis never fully regained momentum after that, still doing more than enough to win the round, but was far too behind at that point.
All that was left was for the scorecards to be read. The final tallies were way too wide, but had the right guy winning as far as the UK crowd was concerned. Scores of 117-111 (2x) and 117-112 sent the live patrons into a frenzy, as Burns picks up a belt in a second weight class.
It’s not (yet) a full-fledged title, as Burns now awaits the outcome of lineal lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez’ third fight with Manny Pacquiao next weekend, as well as what Marquez decides to do afterward. In the meantime, he gets to spend the rest of the year reflecting in perhaps the biggest win of his career as he improves to 33-2 (9KO).
The bout extends his winning streak to 18 straight, dating back to 2007. Despite his lack of true knockout power, the supremely conditioned Burns continues to find ways to win, as evidenced in his off-the-canvas upset win over previously unbeaten Rocky Martinez.
Katsidis’ career heads in the exact opposite direction as his status as a top contender is now officially in trouble.
The all-action lightweight has proven himself at the best-of-the-rest level, but his struggles continue at the championship level. He loses for the third time in his last four bouts as he falls to 28-4 (23KO). The loss is also his first on UK soil, having previously knocked out Kevin Mitchell and Graham Earl.
By Jake Donovan, photos by Alan ‘Big Al’ Stevenson