There are several clichés in boxing: a boxer’s “power is the last thing to go”. Knockouts in the top division can occur at any time because “that’s heavyweight boxing”.
When a boxer is cut, he can often rely on the assistance of an unheard-of cutsman, who is invariably described as “one of the best in the business”.
Perhaps the most oft-repeated truism is that a fighter has “broken his opponent’s heart” – something which is said so much, it feels like it has lost all meaning and impact.
Yet there can be no more fitting explanation for what Ricky Burns did to Jose Gonzalez in their WBO lightweight title fight at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow.
Gonzalez, an unbeaten Puerto Rican with a reputation as a knockout artist, quit on his stool at the end of the ninth round, despite the judges’ scorecards showing that he was winning on points.
The challenger claimed he had broken his left hand, but the truth is more damning than that.
Whilst the hand may well be fractured, the real damage was done when Burns took Gonzalez’s best shots in round seven and came back for more.
The first half of the fight was as intriguing as it was unexpected.
Little was known about Gonzalez, an unbeaten 29 year old with an unblemished record of 22 wins from 22 fights – the reason being that every one of these fights had taken place on Puerto Rican soil, against unheralded opponents.
The Burns camp even bemoaned the difficulty in attaining footage of the fighter to train their charge accordingly.
So when Burns, looking bigger at the weight than Gonzalez and roared on by a sizzling partisan Glaswegian crowd, moved forward and started throwing out his dependable jab, nobody could have predicted he would have so many problems working out his foe.
Indeed, Gonzalez was slick, elusive and capable of sharp counter-punching. In the early exchanges, Burns was falling short with his punches, and getting popped with right hands whenever he managed to move close.
Gonzalez’s considerable punch power was evident, and when he started ripping crunching shots into the body of Burns, you got the sense that he could make a mockery of the bookmakers, who had made him a long 5/1 to get a knockout.
At the end of round five – having already bloodied Burns’ nose in the third and made him cut a frustrated figure throughout – Gonzalez pinned his opponent against the ropes and sent in a barrage of hurtful body shots, occasionally switching to the head to disorientate the Scot.
It was the moment where defeat for the Coatbridge resident went from “possible” to “probable”.
Round seven was undoubtedly the turning point.
Gonzalez, who looked comfortably ahead on points, noticeably hurt Burns and went in for the kill.
He unloaded several bombs that circumvented Burns’ guard, looking for all the world that he was going to force a stoppage.
During the punishment, Burns finally managed to respond with some hurtful counters of his own – the most notable shot being a counter-uppercut that momentarily had Gonzalez buzzed.
When the bell signalled the end of a compulsive round, both men stumbled back to their stools, exhausted – Burns from taking a lot of punishment, and Gonzalez from unsuccessfully going all-out for the knockout.
Whilst onlookers might have expected the round to be the beginning of the end for Burns, instead it was Gonzalez who wilted.
Rounds eight and nine were a complete reversal of those that preceded, with Gonzalez looking tired and bereft of ideas.
To see a man take his best shots and not go down seemed to sap his spirit. This had never happened to him before, and he did not know how to respond.
Burns’ famed conditioning meant that he still had gas in the tank to carry the fight, despite his earlier toils.
And yet, it astonished everyone when the bell sounded for the start of the tenth round with Gonzalez remaining fixed to his stool.
He indicated to the referee that he could not continue, to the delight of 99% of the crowd, and seemingly to the disgust of his own trainer.
He cited a broken left hand for the retirement – an injury most probably attained, with no small amount of irony, landing a near-knockout punch in that seventh round hurricane.
To the casual observer, to stop the fight would seem the most logical decision, but this is the fight game, and Gonzalez was nine minutes away from becoming a world champion.
Boxing is a sport of sacrifice, with fighters enduring tremendous amounts of physical pain to master their craft.
And perhaps more demanding is the mental aspect.
When the going gets tough, the greatest find a reserve from within – a sheer will-to-win that allows them to put any physical trauma to the back of their minds to focus on the task of winning.
Burns has this in abundance, but it would seem as though Gonzalez, for all his considerable talent, does not.
Burns did, indeed, break his opponent’s heart.
Earlier in the evening, home favourite John Simpson outpointed 41 year old Mongolian Choi in a super-featherweight battle that lived up to the pre-fight hype.
Both fighters – Choi in particular – are famed for their come-forward styles and complete refusal to cede ground.
Choi, known as the “Iron Monk”, landed the most significant shots early on, but tired as the fight went on, allowing Simpson to show his class.
After 12 back-and-forth rounds, Simpson won a unanimous points decision, taking his record to 25-9.
Elsewhere, Britain celebrated its latest world champion in the form of Doncaster’s Jamie McDonnell.
McDonnell snatched the vacant IBF bantamweight crown from unbeaten Mexican Julio Ceja, winning a majority decision.
The scorecards read 114-114, 118-110 and 115-113, sparking celebrations in the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster.
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