By Graham Houston
Photos: Joel A Colon/PR Best Boxing
Home advantage will help Scot Ricky Burns when he challenges junior lightweight champion Roman “Rocky” Martinez in Glasgow on Saturday, but the heavy hitting champion from Puerto Rico has won in Britain before.
The fight, on the same show as John Simpson’s featherweight bout with unbeaten prospect Stephen Smith, is intriguing, and promoter Frank Warren has delivered a strong double-header to launch the new season of weekly fights on Sky Sports in the U.K. although the switch from Fridays to Saturdays means that European boxing fans will now be faced with fights clashing on TV on a Saturday night. (The Felix Sturm-Giovanni Lorenzo fight in Germany will be televised at around the same time as the Sky show, for instance).
Martinez is unbeaten, and he is the puncher in the fight. He captured the title by stopping Nicky Cook in the fourth round in Manchester in March 2009 — but he will face a different type of atmosphere this time.
When Martinez stopped Cook the fight wasn’t the main event and he was meeting a Londoner on almost neutral ground in the northwest of England. The crowd’s passion will be on a much higher level on Saturday as Martinez takes to the ring to meet a Scottish boxer in one of Scotland’s most celebrated arenas, one that is steeped in boxing history.
Martinez is an aggressive, heavy-handed and competent fighter but he is not one of the elite champions. Cook almost dropped Martinez in the second round and was outboxing him before the Puerto Rican suddenly turned things around with big punches in the fourth.
Cook, though, was always looking a punch away from being in trouble — he had what I would call a “could go” look about him even when he was scoring well.
Burns, 27, is a quick, clever boxer who is on an impressive run of 13 successive wins. He can punch quite well, but obviously Burns is not a seriously hard hitter, with seven stoppage wins in 30 bouts. He has acknowledged in interviews that he knows it is not in his best interests to get involved in a toe-toe-toe fight with Martinez. Burns will be seeking to box and move, jabbing, keeping his hands up, perhaps standing his ground in spots. If Burns can get right into the fight and start winning rounds, with the crowd roaring every time he lands a scoring blow, he has a good chance of scoring an upset.
The problem I have with Burns, though, is that he has sometimes looked shaky under pressure. Even in his win over Kevin O’Hara, Burns looked uncomfortable when the underdog from Belfast was taking the fight to him. Burns also struggled a bit — and even had a point deducted for holding — in his fight with Michael Gomez, a worn-out veteran, but he managed to land a series of hard punches to win in the seventh round.
Martinez is likely to be taking the fight to Burns from the start, trying to impose his authority on the bout with superior firepower. The 27-year-old Puerto Rican fighter is difficult to discourage. He moves in with hands up and uses the jab to get in range for the heavy hooks and right hands, and he is dangerous with the left uppercut. Burns can no doubt score with the jab, right hand and bursts of punches, but Martinez is the stronger, more powerful fighter. If Burns had his hands full with Kevin O’Hara he is surely going to be feeling the strain of keeping away from Martinez while scoring enough points to put rounds in the bank.
Often, though, a fighter can rise to the occasion in a big fight, with a partisan crowd behind him. Martinez looked quite beatable in his fight with Feider Viloria, an unexceptional Colombian who was very much in the fight for eight rounds with a boxing, moving style, only to be overpowered in the ninth. Burns can do well with his boxing ability, but can he keep Martinez at bay? As of now, six days out from the fight, I’m leaning Martinez’s way but the site could be very important. There could be some twists and turns in this plot. I will probably post a nearer-the-fight update for subscribers.