Last Saturday, Ricky Burns was a heavy favorite entering his WBO lightweight title defense against untested Puerto Rican Jose Gonzalez.
Fighting in front of his adoring fans in Glasgow, Scotland, Burns (36-2, 11 KO) was making an eagerly anticipated return, after proposed bouts against Liam Walsh and Miguel Vazquez—the latter being a unification clash—fell through.
Settling for a bout against the obscure Gonzalez (22-1, 17 KO) had to be a letdown for Burns. Prior to challenging Burns, Gonzalez had never fought outside of Puerto Rico, and his level of competition had been mediocre at best. Still, Gonzalez, a strong puncher with a 73.9 knockout percentage, gave Burns fits.
Burns' mighty struggle against Gonzalez is a devastating blow for a fighter who seemed to be on a collision course with Adrien Broner, both at 130 and 135 pounds. Whether one feels that Burns blatantly ducked Broner or not, the reality is that Burns’ pedestrian performance against Gonzalez justifies Broner’s decision to abandon the lightweight division.
On June 22 at the Barclay’s Centre, Broner (26-0, 22 KO) will jump two weight classes to challenge Paulie Malignaggi for the Brooklyn native’s WBA welterweight title. It is rare to see a boxer leapfrog divisions in this manner, but Broner has made a fairly logical choice.
Malignaggi is a skilled, viable champion, though he lacks punching power. From a size and strength standpoint, this is could be a relatively safe foray for Broner at 147 pounds.
While the move to welterweight is a tad odd, especially considering Broner bypassed the talent-rich junior welterweight division, expect the move to be temporary. That said, a win over Malignaggi in Brooklyn will continue to enhance Broner’s profile and create even greater demand for him to fight the marquee names at 140.
While all of this has left Burns in the dust, Broner has made the intelligent choice. The lightweight division is ultra thin, and with Burns’ struggles over the weekend, Broner-Burns only remains a marquee fight in the United Kingdom.
Broner would have steamrolled the version of Burns that plodded along for the first six rounds against Gonzalez. Burns was repeatedly tagged with counter right hands, which was largely due to his predictable and stiff advances. Standing tall with minimal head movement and feints, Burns provided a central target for Gonzalez to pick apart.
Perhaps more alarming was Burns’ inaccuracy. He failed to use his jab as an effective range finder, falling short with the punch and his follow-up straight right hands. Through six rounds, Burns had only landed 20 of 210 punches for a shocking connect percentage of nine. As Burns continued to misfire, Gonzalez started to show more variety by landing knifing uppercuts and easily splitting Burns’ guard.
The fight, however, started to turn somewhat in the seventh round. While Burns did absorb tremendous punishment, the round seemed to completely sap Gonzalez, who did little over the next two stanzas before quitting on his stool due to injury.
Burns does deserve credit for showing resilience and a quality chin, and Gonzalez must be also commended for his surprisingly slick boxing ability and overall poise. The fact remains, however, that Broner, with his combination of accuracy, variety and power, would have decisively capitalized where Gonzalez couldn’t.
Broner-Burns will always be a massive fight in the UK, and with good reason. Burns has a rabid fanbase, but his recent performance has likely made him completely suspect in the eyes of North American fans and pundits. At this juncture, Broner is on a path of seeking major fights against opponents seen as viable. For now, Burns doesn’t help him with this.
There is, perhaps, a desire to see Broner commit to a division and clean it out, but his burgeoning popularity has already put him on the cusp of being a pick-and-choose fighter who is likely to add and drop weight to make the most attractive and lucrative bouts possible.
That said, Broner’s stand might end up coming at junior welterweight, where there are several legitimate and attractive challenges. Should Broner look sharp at 147, a move down to the division he bypassed will be both logical and anticipated. Promotional logistics aside, imagine Broner matched against the likes of Lucas Matthysse, Lamont Peterson, Amir Khan or Danny Garcia.
There was a time when Burns, Miguel Vazquez and Broner all had fights scheduled within two or so months of each other, which seemed to pave a clear path towards a string of unification fights. It appeared logical that Broner would quickly become the lineal lightweight champion and then move up, which would have cemented his reputation as a championship-level fighter before he started pursuing genuinely elite matchups.
But it appears nothing with Broner will go according to any script. He is an ultra-talented, atypical fighter, and his decision to move up in weight now seems especially wise. Maybe Broner is just ready to ascend to the sport’s pinnacle a little bit before any of us thought.