WBO World Super featherweight title
Echo Arena, Liverpool
16 July 2011
This Saturday’s headline fight on the excellent Sports Network promotion at the Echo Arena, Liverpool sees Coatbridge’s WBO world super featherweight champion Ricky Burns defend against former champion Dagenham’s Nicky ‘Cookie’ Cook. It’s a fascinating showdown that promises to be highly competitive as well as entertaining as two of Britain’s most talented and dedicated boxers battle for world supremacy. It’s also being hyped as a Scotland versus England affair but I prefer to see it in terms of two highly skilled operators deciding who is the best rather than flag waving.
At five feet six and a half inches tall Cook will be conceding three and a half inches in height to the champion. Also at thirty-one years of age he is three years the older. Boxing is not won on vital statistics and it is mileage and healthy living rather than age that can affect outcomes in fights.
In 32 contests Cook has won 30 with 16 wins coming inside the distance. His two losses have both been at world level and in world title fights. The first was when he lost in a brave challenge to the USA’s Steve Luevano in a bid for the then vacant WBO super featherweight title in July 2007 where he was knocked out in the eleventh round. The second defeat was also inside the distance when he was stopped in four losing the title he had taken from Alex Arthur, when Puerto Rican (and common Burns opponent) Roman Martinez proved too strong. It must be remembered that Cook had badly wobbled and hurt Martinez towards the end of the second round with a perfectly timed left hook and until the brutal conclusion had been going alright.
Since his debut in December 1998 Cook has impressed against the likes of Gary Thornhill, Dazzo Williams for the British and European featherweight titles in 2005 and his win over Burns’ countryman and another common opponent Alex Arthur in 2008 for the WBO super featherweight title (Arthur outpointed a young and raw Burns earlier in the champions career). In May of this year Cook shed the ring rust and got himself back into contention by outpointing the rugged spoiler Youssef Al Hamidi over six rounds who has given John Murray and Burns tough spirited competition both in losing fights.
So both men have fought three common opponents in Arthur, Martinez and Al Hamidi. Boxing is not always about ‘beating the man who beat the man.’ It is more a case of style making fights and deciding outcomes. Cook has paid his dues as an honest and hardworking professional. He has had his ups and downs and is generally considered as a focussed determined fighter boxing well on the front foot exerting pressure. Watch his fights and he is good at doubling the jab and then following up with an overhand right, he also has a mean left hook as Martinez and many others learnt.
He will certainly be fired up for this challenge perhaps knowing that this is his last shot at the big time and at winning back the title he lost in March 2009 at the MEN Arena, Manchester.
Fighting out of the opposing corner is impressive champion Burns, who seems to keep going from strength to strength. ‘Rickster’ is hugely popular in Scotland and is a likeable young man who unwinds by walking the dog and playing on his xbox. Both feet are still firmly planted on the ground and he is as dedicated and professional as ever. Success has not gone to his head and if anything he is even more determined to improve and hold onto his title before a mooted sortie on the world scene at lightweight.
With Billy Nelson and Dean Powell in his corner Burns has some wise voices to listen to and listen he does. When he boxes he sticks to the game plan and everything this classy, mature boxer does in the ring is measured, precise and thought out. He is a rangy stylist with a good tactical brain, fighting behind a high held tight guard. His jab is a long range finder and he has excellent movement and instincts. He knows when to go on his bicycle and when to hold on and smother.
Another very important factor is that Burns has a decent chin and plenty of heart. He took some hard punches and weathered some harsh storms in the Martinez fight particularly in the first round when he was floored and the seventh and ninth rounds when he was rocked. He also got up three times against monstrous punching Carl Johansen to eventually lose on points over twelve rounds.
As I mentioned earlier not only does he have skill he can absorb punishment when he has to. His other loss was again early in his career and also on points to the then far more experienced Alex Arthur. Arthur incidentally picks Burns to win on Saturday. I am sure the former Edinburgh fighter knows what he is talking about as he has faced both men.
Burns is very fast and accurate when delivering his punches whether a jab, hook, cross or uppercut, he rarely misses which must be unnerving for opponents. The only thing that he seems to lack is power. In fact, if he had power he would be almost unbeatable. He can dig despite only 8 stoppages on his 31 – 2 record. I will never forget the shocked and hunted look on Martinez’s face at the end of the fifth round of their contest as he sat dejected in his corner.
Many have underestimated Burns in the past and paid the price. He can turn opponents, fight out of corners and rally even when in trouble. He is particularly adept at forcing mistakes from opponents and making them pay with fast accurate counters. After two successful defences against Andreas Evensen of Norway and Joseph Laryea of Ghana he looks confident and much improved from the brave raw boxer that lost to Arthur and Johansen.
That is the bottom line. This is a very tough fight for Cook who just like fellow Dagenham boxer on the same bill Kevin Mitchell, will have questions asked about whether he has fully recovered mentally from a savage inside the distance loss. Cook is a highly capable, compact and skilful pressure fighter but he is up against a skilful boxer in Burns. Cook has been stopped in his two defeats whereas Burns has not. They have both fought at the same level and on paper it looks like a very even match.
Both boxers are gentlemen and fine ambassadors for the sport and I believe that they will have a lot of respect for each other at the conclusion of this one. After twelve highly competitive and absorbing rounds I expect to see Burns’ hand raised in victory and looking forward to unification contests at super featherweight or even a contest with the winner of Mitchell and Murray at lightweight.