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Frampton Comes Alive

The Jackal
The Jackal

There will never be another Barry McGuigan, a distinctive product from the last generation of Ireland’s violent social climate that encompassed “The Troubles.” When McGuigan fought, he unified a disjointed country racked by sectarian violence and murders. The phrase “Barry fights so we don’t have to” was the common refrain. During McGuigan’s career - some 30 years ago - bombings and police raids kept Ireland in an incessant state of tightly coiled tension reflected by his fighting style. Now, McGuigan is guiding his chosen heir apparent to reconstruct the emotion and fighting spirit “The Clones Cyclone” delivered during his Hall of Fame career. That person is Carl Frampton, a boxer who comes alive in the ring throwing flurries of punches, the way a musical namesake, Peter, put flowing notes together with his signature Les Paul.

Nicknamed “The Jackal”, the burly 25-year-old sports a style of boxing molded around a dogged and almost feral determination to break down opponents. Frampton started boxing at age seven, enjoying a splendid amateur career, winning national titles in two weight classes while producing a 130-20 record. He did so despite an aggressive pro style and capped an unpaid apprenticeship with a silver medal at the European amateur championships. It is at that tourney where Barry McGuigan spotted Frampton and decided to back his countryman whenever he made the decision to turn pro. It’s a decision McGuigan did not take lightly, having not used his name recognition (think Magic Johnson in America) to manage a young boxer since retiring in 1989.
It was not for a lack of want; McGuigan said he has been waiting for the right boxer to offer a management deal to, telling writer Leonard Gunning early on that Frampton made the decision easy, “He has brilliant boxing ability and I don’t want him to lose that – he can switch it on or he can switch it off. He can box defensively and he can counter. He can prowl, put you under pressure and force you to make mistakes. It’s the subtle changes than can make the difference. He is going to be an outstanding pro; I just know he has class.”
So far so good for the duo; Frampton is currently 15-0 with 10 stoppages and the pair took a big leap of faith, increasing the level of opposition drastically last year. In his last outing, Frampton savaged former world champion Steve Molitor in six one-sided rounds, dominating a tricky southpaw many thought would test Frampton’s boxing intellect given the gap in experience. Frampton traversed the 12-round distance for the first time as well, losing one round on two scorecards against fellow undefeated prospect Raul Hirales of Mexico. This prompted McGuigan, a duly impressed mentor, to state Frampton was the best prospect he has seen in 30 years.
Consider theirs a mutual admiration. Frampton understands the public risk both are taking, bearing in mind McGuigan’s considerable shadow, “Barry was genuine and I knew he would look after me and wasn’t just after the money. He is always on the phone to me and I would say he’s more like a friend to me than manager. He believes I can be a world champion and he wants to help me get there so it was an easy decision in the end.” The only regret Frampton has is McGuigan’s insistence on uprooting his charge from his familiar Belfast surrounding for training camps, leaving behind his fiancée, daughter and dog for eight to 10 weeks at a time.
For Frampton, boxing inspiration comes in forms other than just McGuigan. He tells Maxboxing’s Anson Wainwright, “My favorite fighter is [Manny] Pacquiao. My boxing hero was Wayne McCullough. Being a Belfast man, he was always involved in great fights. He went anywhere; he’d fight anyone. He fought some of the top guys around. He was always in good fights. He was so fit; he lived the life. He was a dedicated athlete.” It is not a coincidence Frampton would admire another’s work ethic, a gym rat of the highest order, Frampton trains down to three percent body fat for fights.
When Frampton and McGuigan reach world championship heights, we can be sure they will travel across the Atlantic to show their wares to an American audience. The Irishman sports an aggressive ring demeanor to win converts outside the large Irish community in the United States. Frampton explained his boxing style to Wainwright, “I describe myself as a ‘box’ fighter. Middle distance is where I like to be. I can fight in close if I have to. I’m short; a lot of people would think of me being an aggressive brawler but I had a good amateur record and when it comes to it, I can box on the back foot. If it comes to it, I prefer it. I’m not just a one-trick pony; I can punch a bit. I’m aggressive when I have to be but I can also go on the back foot if push comes to shove.”
A self-evaluation backed by a peer and current world champion Carl Froch, who watched Frampton perform on the undercard of his title-unifying win over Lucian Bute, reveals, “I love watching that kid fight. He’s got bags of skill, is as tough as an ox and he can really bang. Frampton is the future.” Froch is someone Frampton wants to emulate in one important way. “It means a lot that Carl rates me. I’m a huge fan of his and there is so much to admire about him, both the way he boxes and his approach to the sport in general. He only fights the best and his record reads like a who’s who of the best boxers in the world. That must be the blueprint for all fighters and it’s certainly the route I want to take.”
Frampton has already made waves internationally and after only 15 bouts, is rated in the top 10 by The Ring magazine (only four boxers rated by The Ring have less). He did so without the hype unranked American prospects like Gary Russell Jr. or Demetrius Andrade receive from media giants HBO and Showtime. “Barry hasn’t matched me easy, which is what I want. He’s matched me with guys who are quite tough, which is what has helped me improve. I want to be a world champion, as simple as that.” Frampton has his sights set on the elite, telling writer Liam Power, “Abner Mares is another fight I’d like to get. I think Nonito Donaire and Guillermo Rigondeaux are a little bit in front and Top Rank can make that fight. I’m about a year away from challenging one of those guys but anyone else I can take on straight away.”
Today is not all about Frampton and it would not be wise to dismiss a Kiko Martinez, who has scored some his best wins in the United Kingdom. Martinez is much more experienced, a top-flight European-level boxer for nearly a decade, mirroring Frampton in style and attitude. The Spaniard never lost to a boxer rated outside of the world top 10 and came to prominence knocking out undefeated Irish hero Bernard Dunne before hometown fans in Dublin. A confident Martinez believes history is set to repeat itself, “I’ve trained very hard. I am ready to stop [Frampton] and I’m going to give it my all in the ring. It will be a great fight. Believe me; I’m not going to take a backward step.”
Martinez is backed by boxing royalty as well, managed by current World Middleweight Champion and top three pound-for-pound boxer Sergio Martinez. The Argentine lived in Spain for several years, befriending Kiko. He believes Kiko can follow his lofty footsteps, signing him to a fledgling promotional company, “He is the best boxer in Spain, top three in Europe in [his] division and top 10 in the world.” To further that end, Martinez brought Kiko to California for the best possible training to prepare for this duel. The work has sharpened Martinez mentally and physically, perhaps lending him the edge needed to overcome five-to-one betting odds. The Kiko Martinez who appeared at the weigh-in seemed prepared in every aspect, “Frampton is too scared to come to Spain. I’ve come here to shut Frampton’s mouth once and for all. He’s not on my level.”
Given the duo’s forceful tactics, both relying on power punches and physical superiority, this showdown has “Fight of the Year” potential that goes beyond European borders. Martinez, whose power does not wane with rounds, intends for the fight to go in that direction, “I think Frampton will try to run. I think he’ll box and he won’t go toe-to-toe.” Frampton says he won’t be hard to find. “I know I’m a lot stronger than him. When I’m in the ring with him, he won’t want to fight with me. He knows it; his corner knows it and all of Ireland knows it.” If it goes the distance, Martinez is not concerned by boxing politics given his name recognition and previous outings in Britain, “I don’t worry about the judges. This is a great country for boxing. It’s a serious title up for grabs and it’s not Germany or France. They know about boxing here and the judges will be fair.”
This European junior featherweight title fight has been twice postponed (by a Martinez training injury and a second time after Martinez’s father underwent emergency surgery), which has fueled animosity from a usually levelheaded Frampton. This especially given Martinez’s recent outspokenness on impending victory. “We’ll see on fight night but I’m ready for this. I was ready over a year ago and I’ve improved so it’s gonna be a worse beating for him,” Frampton said. It even prompted Frampton to make a prediction: “I feel I will win by knockout or they’ll stop the fight cause of the beating I’m going to put on him. That’s how I see it in my mind.”
The hometown boy will be backed by a raucous crowd - nearly 15,000 fans are expected to sell out the arena - seeking a fresh new face to invest its emotions in. Frampton is conscious of the pressure that goes with being the next big thing, returning to his usual understated self, answering that question while lowering expectations during an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, “To be a Northern Ireland hero, it would be great. That would be the ultimate for me. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll get close to the level of fame and popularity that Barry McGuigan and Geordie Best (legendary soccer player for Manchester United) did but if I got a little bit close, it would great.” Beating Kiko Martinez would get Frampton a considerable step closer towards that ambition. Defeating the best in the world would make Frampton come alive in those notoriously smiling Irish eyes.
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