CHS 1963

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Cushing Daily Citizen - Sunday Edition - 4/1/2007 2011 Cushing Athletic Hall Of Fame Inductee

The face of a ‘Champ’

Local Hero Brian Kelly Burden
By Jared R. Whittington – Cushing Daily Citizen – April 1, 2007 

Affectionately known as the “Sweet Science” in the hay day of boxing, Cushing native Brian Kelly Burden was less natural prodigy than feared for his prodigious strength and savagery. Of course, the old fight photos do not show the caring man that would go on to receive a Master’s Degree in Recreation and teach children in several states for a period of over 20 years. Burden was the Director of Cushing Youth and Community Center for six years (1968-1974).

To most, boxing seems nothing more than two brutes set on pummeling their opponent into unconsciousness, but Burden assures it is more than that and more than mere adrenalin that keeps a man standing after he should have toppled.

A firm base provides a platform for punching power and combinations with the ability to evade at a second’s notice. A firm midsection absorbs blows while passing the building inertia, similar to an electrical current running through the legs to the torso and on to the shoulder. The shoulder must alternately remain loose (consuming as little energy as possible and concealing the fighter’s intent) and be prepared to offer a blow as opportunities arise.  And finally, the blow itself and recoil.

Burden contends there is even a common misconception with the punch. There is not any power in a blow that sticks, but one that has follow-through, a snap and speedy withdrawal. It is the snap that provides the concussive force for a knockout.

In the thick of it, a fighter depends on numerous hours of conditioning to survive the grueling three minute rounds. Pace, timing, distance and emotional control are estimated in opening rounds and dictate further strategy. The fighter must also be receptive to an opponent’s weaknesses through revealing telegraphs, facial expressions, and the shift of the shoulders. “It (the match) is dynamic and constantly changing,” Burden said.

Burden insists “sweet science” is an apt description. It is perhaps the only sport that requires so many small things working together for overall mastery with a wholesome dash of courage.

Left to the heckling crowd, alone under the spotlights, even the minutest flaw in conditioning and performance is laid bare. There are no team mates on which to rest a portion of a botched performance. Something so destabilizing, it caused Floyd Patterson to carry a post-fight disguise. It is as much anatomy and physiology as psychological fortitude and ferocity. The last two solidified Burden’s place in the Boxiana pantheon of greats.

Burden was born, with his grandmother acting as mid-wife, on Main Street in Cushing on March 21, 1938. He graduated from Cushing High School in 1956, lettering 15 times and being selected as all-state football halfback, along with other accolades. Burden injured his knee in a football game before entering Tulsa University in 1957. Seeing the injury would hinder him, his coach suggested boxing to help in rehabilitation.

Burden’s rapid ascent to fistic heights is not less amazing considering period managers and coaches were hesitant to take on fighters at the late age of 16. Most felt the necessary time to hone instincts and finesse had already passed.

Already 19, Burden began training and immediately won Oklahoma Golden Gloves Novice middleweight and the Oklahoma Golden Gloves Open title in 1958. In 1959 he won the Kansas City tournament and he was named winner of the “Tony Zale” award after competing in the Western Golden Gloves in Chicago. In 1960 Burden took the Mid-South championship in Memphis, Tenn., where he also won the “Sonny Ingram” award as the contests most exceptional boxer.

In 1962 Burden decided on a professional career. Fighting as “Kelly Burden,” he earned the nation’s respect after putting away Art Hernandez in a mere three rounds. After a break and fighting simply as “Brian Kelly” – Burden beat Alonzo Harris to become Oklahoma Light-Heavyweight Champion (1969).

Burden’s career took many turns. He won numerous awards and met, fought, or was listed on cards with such greats as the Rocky’s (Graziano, Marciano), George Foreman, Bob Foster (pound-for-pound the greatest fighter of the day), Rudy Rodriguez, Larry Brazier, Tommy Sims, Paul Patin, as well as others.

Early in his career, Irish fighters had just begun to take on the notion water was preferable to beer before a fight. Burden maintains he was always attentive to health. For a man of near 80 years his muscle definition and energy show his concern has not diminished.

Friends relate Burden always preformed best with a challenge. When there was no real opposition, his heart was not in it. But cut him or crunch the bridge of his nose and a Burden fight was on. Wrapping his arms in the ropes, he would snarl like a caged animal and corner man would cut him loose at the bell.

Known alternately as “steel-fisted” and a “potent body puncher,” Burden was a smaller fighter and often gave up reach, but he fought so roughly that a lot of fighters “took the count” to reconsider and decided they did not want to continue. Most notably his meeting with Spider Jenkins, Jenkins got back up, mentioned his reservation and Burden sent him reeling back to the canvas.

If a man had the gumption to get up after a mauling, Burden was not going to wait. Numerous photos show what Burden now calls his characteristic assault, standing over the top of a man with his left perched to drive him back into the canvas. With some timidity, Burden mentions these were the days of the 20 round fight, a time when referees were little more than circling spectators.

Burden has two equally historic distinctions. He fought in the last scheduled twenty round fight and did so competing against Bob Foster for the Light-Heavyweight Championship of the World. Burden, unashamed, smiles recalling the loss, “he had the best hands you ever saw.”

There is emotion lingering over the photos and he concedes what fighters always have, “fighters nowadays aren’t of the same fiber.” The hunger so casually discussed was not only figurative, but literal. For fighters 60 years ago, boxing was the only escape. They ate or went without depending on their weekend bouts.

Managers made deals with local lunch counters and purchased weekly meal tickets, redeemable for a certain value. The fighters that won received a second, the fighters that did not had to survive on one. It gave incentive to win.

“There just isn’t any motivation like that anymore.” Burden said. “It’s just impossible to get kids to do the road work, even skipping rope is out.” Nevertheless, he makes frequent trips to Green Country on Main Street in Drumright to train up-and-comers.

Pouring over old boxing photos and magazine articles, Burden speaks almost tenderly of the fighters making their way through his fingers. He stops over each to recall their strengths, courage and merits without ever once mentioning the outcome of the fight. With fond memories of the “fight game,” the sweet science is sweet again. 

Click on glove below to go back to Tribute to Kelly Burden:

Going the Distance by Bill Conti

Rocky Balboa: The Best Of Rocky CD
26 tracks
Original Release Date:
December 12, 2006
Release Date: December 12, 2006
Label: Capitol
Total Length: 1:05:51

Song & CD may be purchased/downloaded:


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