Boxing may be a sport, but it's also a tough business, which means sometimes fighters who are friends have to fight. They must put aside their personal relationship and trade punches.
Lightweight titlist Ricky Burns of Scotland and England's Kevin Mitchell will do just that when they meet in an evenly matched 135-pound title fight Saturday (BoxNation in the United Kingdom) at the Scottish Exhibition Centre in Glasgow, Scotland.
The 29-year-old Burns (34-2, 9 KOs), who will be fighting in his hometown, is making his second title defense after vacating a junior lightweight belt to move up in weight following only three defenses.
"The fight trade has been talking about us two meeting for a while now, and it's happening at the perfect time," Burns said. "Mitchell is a great fighter and I've got to know him well outside of the ring, but it's a shame in this business that that will have to be put aside while we're fighting it out, and there can only be one winner.
"For me, it's about testing myself against the best and proving how good I am. Mitchell's the next-best in Britain, and I'm sure he's going to give me the hardest fight of my career, and that's what I'm preparing for -- a real battle."
Mitchell (33-1, 24 KOs), 27, has won two fights in a row since suffering his only loss, a third-round knockout to Michael Katsidis in a May 2010 interim title bout. In 2011, Katsidis dropped a clear decision in an interim title bout against Burns.
Mitchell also understands the notion of putting friendship aside because of business.
"Ricky's a great person, a lovely guy and I consider him a mate of mine," Mitchell said. "Business is business, though, and if I lose then I'm back to the bottom of the pack, and I'm not going there, so it's a must-win fight for me. Losing to Ricky is not a option. We're full of respect for each other, we're both at the top of our game, and it's a fight between the two best in Britain and two of the best in the world. It's going to be a great fight for the fans and media.
"Once we're in that ring and the bell goes, though, it's going to be brutal. Ricky knows what he's got in front of him, and I'm going to be hitting him harder and faster than he's ever been hit before. I'm in this business to win world titles. I lost the first attempt against Michael Katsidis and I won't be needing a third. This is it for me."
Their showdown certainly isn't the first time that pals have squared off. It's fairly common.
Two notable examples: In 2000, then-super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe defeated close friend Richie Woodhall. In a 2004 heavyweight title bout, Chris Byrd outpointed Jameel McCline to retain his title, but only after being knocked down in the second round. The fighters were very close friends, and their wives were best friends. The promotion took a toll on all of them.
Burns and Mitchell have sparred together, so the fight won't be the first time they have faced each other, even though Saturday's event will be a more hostile situation.
When Mitchell knocked out countryman John Murray in the eighth round in July 2011 -- the biggest win of Mitchell's career -- he sparred with Burns to get ready for the fight.
Mitchell has conceded that Burns got the better of him in their sparring sessions, but he wasn't happy that unidentified members of the gym leaked details of those sessions.
"Yeah, very [annoyed]," Mitchell said. "There's been loads of bull---- about it. Basically, I'd been out of training for a while, having a beer with some of my boys. I'd been back in the gym maybe three days. Fourth day, Ricky turns up and -- you know me -- I'll spar anyone. Ricky was 12-rounds super-fit, as he always is. I was just four days in the gym, but I thought I was doing him a favor.
"First day, I knocked out eight rounds and I did well, especially at the start. One point, I had him flying across the ring from a left hook, something [trainer] Jimmy [Tibbs] constantly reminds me. Second spar, I could only manage five [rounds] before stepping out.
"I know it ain't been Ricky putting stuff out. He's an absolute gentleman and my friend. He'd never do anything like that. It's that Billy Nelson [Burns' trainer]. Boxing's a man's sport, not for kids, and he really needs to grow up. Saturday night, there'll be no headguards and no 14-ounce gloves. I'll be vicious and angry."
Mitchell also said he has no problem going to Burns' hometown, where he enjoys tremendous support.
"I bashed up John Murray before his crowd, so fighting in Scotland shan't be an issue at all," Mitchell said. "After I've knocked him out, [they will] be loving me. Just you watch 'em."
Then, friends again.