ITV backs Carl Frampton to revive the glory days

Belfast fighter’s world-title defence sees boxing back on terrestrial TV

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The Independent Online

Lightning is about to strike twice with a young Belfast boxer cast as a pioneer for his sport. Thirty years after Barry McGuigan crossed the Irish Sea to become a household name, his protégé Carl Frampton is poised to make the same journey with  the return of live boxing  on mainstream terrestrial  television.

ITV has rolled out the red carpet for Frampton when he makes the first defence of his IBF super-bantamweight title at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast next month against Chris Avalos of the United States.

The bout, promoted by McGuigan’s CWM-Cyclone Promotions, comes seven years after ITV’s last live broadcast and will be shown on the ITV1 platform, which according to McGuigan represents a huge opportunity for the sport.

“It’s gigantic for us and for boxing. It has been a pretty extraordinary journey, from a fledgling organisation to world-title fights in the space of just a few years. We started in the Ulster Hall back in 2010 and it has been a meteoric rise since.

“Carl is already an established name in Ireland, sharing the Sports Personality of the Year award with Rory McIlroy over there. This deal will make him a superstar. He is a better fighter than I was, with a greater range, and  his fights are exciting. ITV will love him, as will the British public.

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Carl Frampton lands a blow on Kiko Martinez

“Boxing needs the kind of exposure that terrestrial TV provides. I know the sporting landscape has changed but the fundamentals remain the same. Frampton will appeal to the general sports fan, not just the aficionado, because you can’t take your eyes  off him.”

That’s some billing from a fighter who remains the most watched by a live television audience. McGuigan’s WBA featherweight title fight against Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in June, drew record figures for boxing of 18 million viewers, plus a live gate of 27,000.

With the capacity at the Odyssey a tad below 9,000, Frampton will not remotely threaten either total, but he doesn’t have to justify the interest of ITV director of sport Niall Sloane. “Broadcasters go through periods when some sports work and [others] don’t. The model that they come with does not always suit,” Sloane said.

“We need to be persuaded it is right for us and the model that Barry proposed works.  Carl is an exciting fighter and we are delighted at the opportunity to broadcast his talent on free-to-air TV.”

Though the deal extends no further than the 28 February fight date, there is a will to continue on both sides as long as the figures add up. For  ITV, that means pulling in  a late-night crowd on Saturday. For McGuigan and Frampton, it is about reaching a wider audience with a story worth telling.

Like McGuigan, Frampton crossed the religious divide through his marriage, though in reverse: his wife, Christine, coming from Belfast’s Catholic community. McGuigan played his own part in uniting communities at a time when the division in Ulster was underpinned by lethal hatred.

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The great Barry McGuigan with his protege

Times have moved on. Belfast is a city no longer looking inward but outward, and Frampton, as his dual award with McIlroy demonstrates, is very much a face of it.

His victory over Kiko Martinez to reach the world summit last year attracted the largest live gate for a boxing event in Ireland, 15,000, in a specially constructed arena in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter. Now he wants to spread the love, first in Britain and eventually across the Atlantic in the United States.

“I’m honoured that ITV chose me. I’m aware of the history of the sport and the great champions that fought on ITV back in the day, the likes of Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank. I’m pretty well known in Belfast and like them I want to be known outside my country.

“I like to think I’m an exciting fighter and give value for money. This will be another amazing night in Belfast.”

Sloane’s phone has already started to ring with boxing promoters seeking a piece of the ITV pie. The days of long contracts and dull fights are over. Only the big ticket- sellers need apply.

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