The nation’s streets were clogged with smoke — neon fizzed and popped endlessly across the night sky — so Ricky Burns and Michael Katsidis, perhaps feeling a little left out of proceedings, set fire to a patch of canvas inside Wembley Arena, London. Katsidis, the gnarled and primitive Greek-Australian, spluttered and sparked like a Catherine wheel throughout, while the unflappable Burns maintained order, wielding a mean taper in the best traditions of any fire safety officer while remembering to stand well back as pyrotechnics flashed and died all about him.
Katsidis did his thing from first bell to last. A chaotic and pell-mell hooking machine, he penned Burns against the ropes for long spells, yet rarely flustered the tough Scot, who absorbed a fair few, dodged others and countered brilliantly in between. More rope-a-hero than rope-a-dope, Burns would lean back against the strands, gloves cupped to either side of his head, leaving the visitor very little of anything to shoot for — not that it discouraged him from trying. Burns would then rally hard with swinging hooks and uppercuts, a large percentage of which hit their mark. It was an edgy yet entertaining affair and one quite difficult to score. After 12 rewarding sessions, though, Burns was hailed the winner via scores of 117-112 and 117-111 (twice).
Katsidis was immediately troubled with Burns’s jab. His timing looked a tad awry and he had to push harder than usual in order to be effective. Burns, purportedly the smaller man, looked big at his new weight, and his punches appeared to carry more heft than his paltry knockout ratio would suggest they should. He repeatedly winged in blistering left hooks to the body while Katsidis, in retort, flashed that odd, shabbily delivered overhand right of his, a punch that appears to repeatedly break down half way to its destination.
Burns carried the majority of the early rounds yet Katsidis changed it up in the 5th and, as he pummelled Burns against the ropes, he cleverly shifted his position a little to the left in order to slam power punches home between the Coatbridge man’s high guard. It was a contest of hustle and bustle versus more sparing and clean-cut counter punching.
Katsidis appeared to edge the middle rounds, despite failing to land anything that would leave a dent. His constant nibbling at Burns at times shaded the Scotsman’s more eye-catching, swinging retaliatory attacks, on TQBR card at least. Burns countered well in the 11th, while Katsidis, who flirted with a docking of points for punching the back of his rival’s head in the last, probably nicked the closer. TQBR looked to be a minority in scoring for a Katsidis win 116-114, and while the verdict for Burns was both reasonable and understandable; the official judge’s cards looked a tad wide.
Katsidis has clearly slipped a smidgen but will undoubtedly fight on, possibly to return to these shores once again, and despite falling to 28-5 (23), this honest-to-goodness action man would be a most welcome guest. Burns, 33-2 (9), suddenly becomes a serious player in the lightweight class, with domestic scraps against Kevin Mitchell and John Murray easily within his reach. On this performance, though, Billy Nelson’s number one wee man, who seems to come alive on these big nights, will be courting the idea of facing the divisional cream with an anticipatory smile.
Local super middleweight prospect George Groves retained his British and Commonwealth championships in emphatic fashion against Liverpool’s Paul Smith. At the end of an intriguing opener which had featured intense fencing from both men, Smith fired off a right hand which almost unhinged Groves from his couplings.
Groves, who seemed furious at being tagged, responded with a scorching right hook early into round 2 which curled around Smith’s guard and dumped him hard onto his knees — rubberizing his legs and effectively curtailing his evening’s toil. The tenacious Scouser kidded a short reprieve out of referee Victor Loughlin, only for Groves to crash another right hook high against Smith’s left temple that sank him hard again, beckoning Loughlin into action at the 1:18 point. Smith, incredulous that his body has let him down, tottered backwards into the ropes, taking the third man along for the ride.
Smith, who slips to 31-3 (17), looked sharper and more determined than ever, yet he simply isn’t made for this weight. “Smigga” can still make for entertaining contests down at 160 lbs. — at least domestically — should his confidence not have been crumpled unduly upon this latest setback. Groves, meanwhile, advances to 14-0 (11) and could face former foe Kenny Anderson before the year is out, which would be an ideal next step in the exciting and burgeoning career of Britain’s recently appointed young fighter of the year.