• Steve Bunce

Burns-Vazquez is a fight for the ages

Steve Bunce January 15, 2013

Critics of modern boxing often complain that the British world champions fight an endless stream of challengers who will not be missed. Every now and again, however, the argument gets turned on its head.

IBF super-middleweight champion Carl Froch is an expert at this, and now Ricky Burns looks set to leave his mark when he puts his WBO lightweight title on the line in a unification bout with IBF champion Miguel Vazquez.

The fight against the 26-year-old Mexican, to take place at Wembley on March 16, is a rare gem for British boxing. Vasquez is a terrific champion, the type of man that other champions tend to avoid. His three defeats have been against really good fighters - he lost twice against Saul Alvarez on points, and was also beaten after going the distance with Timothy Bradley.

There had been a lot of talk about Burns coming up against Adrien Broner, who made his mark on the division in spectacular fashion when he stopped Antonio DeMarco in the eighth round in November for the WBC lightweight title. But three months ago Vasquez would have been rated well ahead of the American, judged as much for his antics and soundbites as for his world title win.

Vasquez is judged solely on what he has achieved in the ring during his career - and it is no coincidence he is held in such high esteem. Burns may be undefeated in five years but Vasquez is undefeated in four, while his 33 wins stack up well against the Scot's 35-2 record.

In short, Vasquez is an enormous risk for Burns - and this has the makings of a fight for the ages.

While Vazquez is swapping the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for his first fight outside the Americas, for Ricky it's another fight on home soil, and that's the way he likes it. Lots of people talk about 'breaking' America, and how it will alter their careers. It certainly changed Ricky Hatton's life in the ring; it hasn't impacted on Froch's career drastically.

It's something that fans love debating - they want to see all their favourite British fighters topping the bill in Las Vegas, but the truth is it just doesn't happen that often. Froch has had some fantastic fights in America, but there's no great call for him to return, and sadly he's not topping the bill at the MGM when I believe he should be. Hatton, meanwhile, built up a bit of a following in America and did top the bill in Las Vegas.

Only a small group of British fighters in the last 50 years have cracked the American market and then carried on winning. And it all has to be balanced against the money. If Ricky can make twice the amount of money for fighting Vasquez in the UK, why should he take half the amount to be a second-tier attraction in America? You wouldn't take a pay cut like that in your job, so why should it happen to boxers?

More importantly, Ricky should arrive at Wembley in the shape of his life. There are some fighters who react adversely to having fights postponed or cancelled on them, as has happened not once but twice in the past few months. Ricky is not one of them. He's not a pampered fighter - he's had fights throughout his career that have been pushed back or fallen through. He will not have suffered from being out of the ring for nearly six months by March. In fact, you could argue that, after his run of fights in the preceding 12-month period - Michael Katsidis, Paulus Moses and Kevin Mitchell - he needed a bit of a rest.

A special night awaits, and Ricky has earned it. It's been tough for him to get the credit he deserves - he should have received greater credit for winning the WBO super-featherweight title against Roman Martinez, and for beating Katsidis for the WBO lightweight title. For defending his belt against Moses. For knocking out Mitchell.

Then again, Ricky has never played the publicity game. He's media friendly, but he's not media mad. He's redefined the modern professional in many ways. But no matter how much he talks and how much exposure he gets between now and March, it has always been about the ring for Ricky.

This is a fight that defines a career, it's that simple. And fights like this are rare.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.