By John J. Raspanti
A loss in any sport is difficult. But in boxing, the ultimate individual competition, losing can be magnified. In the ring, it’s just you and the other guy. All your team can do is provide support and console. The loss is on you.
Last January, Belfast native Carl Frampton dropped a decision and his WBA featherweight title to Leo Santa Cruz at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, NV. Frampton, who defeated Santa Cruz six months before, entered the ring a favorite. He left it a loser. The bout was tight, but when the decision was announced in Santa Cruz’s favor, Frampton didn’t complain.
The impact came later.
“I was properly gutted but I didn’t let it upset me too much,” Frampton told Chris McKenna of The Daily Star in June. “I got beat by a three-weight world champion on a bad performance for me and it was still relatively close."
A few hours after his first professional loss, Frampton left the MGM Grand, making a beeline for an Irish pub across the street.
“I went on the drink and forgot about it,” said Frampton. “We had a good night and enjoyed ourselves.” After he returned to his suite with a few of his closest friends, the man, nicknamed “The Jackel,” shed some tears.
Frampton hadn’t lost a boxing match since he was a teenager. An amateur standout, he won the IBF title in his 19th professional fight in 2014. Fifteen months ago, he met domestic rival and WBA champion Scott Quigg. Frampton, now 30, boxed smartly and won the fight by split decision.
He edged Santa Cruz in an exciting match at the Barclays Center in New York City. He lost the rematch six months later. He brooded, spent time with his family, and returned to the gym.
Saturday, Frampton returns to the squared circle for the first time since losing his championship to face Mexico’s Andres Gutierrez at the Belfast Odyssey Arena in Belfast Northern Ireland. The fight is important for Frampton. Nobody is ever really sure what effect a loss might have on a fighter. Some are never the same-others return but, without the same focus.
Frampton is aware of the questions surrounding his return.
“I feel like I’ve been doing alright in the gym and I want to be a champion again,” said Frampton.
Gutierrez,23, sports an impressive record of 35-1-1, with 25 big knockouts. He’s never faced anyone with Frampton’s world class reputation. There are questions about his opposition. Gutierrez believes he’s ready for the biggest fight of his life.
“I can’t wait for July twenty-ninth,” said Gutierrez. “It’s a big fight and I’m very motivated to get the win. I know I have a great opportunity and will not waste it."
Frampton, who’s desperate for a third encounter with Santa Cruz, won’t allow himself to overlook Gutierrez.
“He’s got thirty-five wins, one loss, one draw - and his loss. He didn’t lose the fight, he won it,” Frampton said. “He’s a big puncher with twenty-five knockouts, so it’s gonna be a good fight. I wanted a tough fight and I know I’ll need to be at my best. If I’m not, I may lose this fight."
Look for Frampton to prevail late in the bout.