Opinion

Ricky Burns ventures into the unknown against Indongo

On Saturday at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland’s own Ricky Burns vies to become the first Scotsman ever to unify world titles as he puts his WBA super lightweight title on the line against IBF champion Julius Indongo. In doing so, he’s also venturing into murky waters.

Prior to December, Julius Indongo was a relatively unknown fighter from Namibia in southwestern Africa. All of his fights had taken place in obscurity, and aside from a few minutes on YouTube, there was no footage available. He got the call to face the reigning IBF champion Eduard Troyanovsky of Russia in what was seen as a standard voluntary title defence to keep things moving. The odds were heavily stacked against the Namibian, and virtually no one gave him a shot.

40 seconds into the fight, he swung with a haymaker left hand and knocked Troyanovsky out cold, sending the Russian crowd into complete silence. Indongo became a world champion, and yet, he was still essentially an unknown quantity.

Heading into Saturday’s unification fight, Burns and team admit that there isn’t much to work with in terms of finding a tape and studying Indongo. Trainer Tony Sims told IFL TV that, “With these fighters that fight on small bills like Indongo has done throughout his career in Namibia, it’s very, very difficult to find material. There’s like one or two rounds of when he’s actually knocking people out so you can’t really see a lot from that. His world title shot, he won it in 40 seconds so you can’t really take anything from that.”

Sims said that they had the same problem in Burns’ last fight, against Kiryl Relikh where the Scot won a disputed decision. Nonetheless, he followed up by saying, “What we’ve prepared for is a great, fast, hard punching fighter, like a Terence Crawford.”

Indongo, despite the huge knockout victory in his last fight, is not known as a knockout artist or a puncher, with 11 stoppages in 21 wins. Tall for the weight, the 2008 Olympian has been the 12 round distance three times against modest opposition. He turned pro at the age of 26 in 2009 finds himself in this position at 34 years of age.

He’s a complete wild card, and thus the fight could go several different ways. With the lack of footage it’s hard to gauge where he’s at really, but on closer inspection of his record, there are tidbits of information that paint a slight picture.

In his first two 12 round fights, he fought Kaizer Mabuza and Ibrahim Class respectively. Mabuza had seen better days already back in 2014 yet still managed to relatively tight scores of 116-111, 116-112 and 117-115. Take into consideration that Indongo was the house fighter and those seem like pretty close scores. The same can be said for the fight against Tanzania’s Class, where the Namibian hit the deck in the first round. Class also isn’t renowned as a puncher.

Indongo, being a southpaw, is a type of opponent that Burns hasn’t beat since he won the vacant Commonwealth super featherweight title against Osumanu Akaba in 2008. He came up short against southpaw Dejan Zlaticanin and switch-hitter Terence Crawford in 2014.

Big knockout last time out from Indongo aside, the odds are that this is a distance fight. With the lack of footage on Indongo and him looking like a rather awkward stylist in the ring, Burns may try to drag this one into deep waters and impose and make his renowned conditioning the difference in the fight. In some fights, the “Rickster” has been the aggressor trying to bully his opponents, and in others, he’s had to try and box, mainly against better opposition. Based on his shortcomings against southpaws as of late, it would seem like the wrong tactic to try and box with Indongo, a long, rangy and awkward opponent.

With home advantage and the roars of the Scottish crowd urging him on, Burns would probably be best served to try to make this an ugly contest, smothering Indongo’s work and mugging him up close. Indongo losing rounds to opponents of Mabuza’s ilk at least seems to suggest that he can be pressured, so Burns is going to have to make him work every second.

Another perk of fighting at home is, of course, the judging. The scores for Burns against Relikh were very wide, including a dreadful 118-110 score. Against Zlaticanin in Glasgow, one judge managed to somehow give it to the home fighter, and the draw against Ray Beltran can’t be forgotten. If it goes to the scorecards, chances are Burns will get the decision unless he gets knocked down multiple times or just very clearly outboxed for seven or eight rounds at the minimum. House fighters more often than not get favourable judging, that’s just boxing.

On Saturday in Glasgow, the boxing world will find out a lot more about what Julius Indongo is made of. For now, Ricky Burns and team know as little as everyone else.

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