Steve Bunce on Boxing: Belfast is an old-fashioned fight city and has found a hero from another age in Carl Frampton
He gives the purists and the converts a text-book version of a compact, busy little puncher, a fighter at ease dropping his opponents and never changing his expression
Wednesday 05 February 2014
Carl Frampton faces Hugo Cazares on 4 April for a super-bantamweight world-title shot
The last time Carl Frampton fought in Belfast, there were people stood outside the doors at the Odyssey Arena waiting for the result and silently cursing their failure to be part of the 9,000 screaming fans inside.
The great fight city had waited decades for the arrival of a new local idol, a figure to replace the man who walked Frampton to the ring. "They really love him. It's quite incredible, it's all a bit crazy at the moment," said Barry McGuigan, whose nights in various Belfast rings will never be forgotten.
McGuigan has been in charge of Frampton's progress since 2009 and it has not been as smooth as the glorious success of last October's sold-out fight against Jeremy Parodi suggests. McGuigan has worked with various television companies and fight people during the journey so far and the boxing business can be – putting it politely – a troublesome environment.
"A few things failed to happen and a few other things didn't happen quite how we wanted," said McGuigan. "Carl beat a guy who is now the world champion and Carl has to fight a final eliminator. That... is the way it works."
In a classic bit of boxing fixing, Frampton became invisible last year after he had knocked out Kiko Martinez, yet the Spaniard somehow got the title fight, won and is now ignoring Frampton.
On 4 April, Frampton returns to the Odyssey for a fight against Mexican Hugo Cazares, a former double world champion and the leading contender for the super-bantamweight title. It is a final eliminator before McGuigan gets the chance to try to get the WBC's regal champion, Leo Santa Cruz, to fight in Belfast. It is, make no mistake, the hardest possible route to a world title, because Santa Cruz is the very best in the world at the weight.
The fight with Cazares was announced last week and half of the 9,000 tickets sold out straight away, and the remaining tickets would also probably be gone by now if McGuigan did not have the problem of providing the other Irish fighters on the bill with their own tickets to sell. It seems that every boxer in Ireland wants to be part of a Frampton bill. It is a nice problem to have and when McGuigan said recently that the 51,700 capacity Aviva Stadium in Dublin would be a perfect venue for a Frampton fight if it had a retractable roof to protect fans from the Irish weather, he was not joking.
Even though I have been ringside in Belfast for over 25 years for amateur and professional boxing, the Frampton experience last time out still came as a mild shock. The audience was truly mixed; there was a genuine split between traditional and new fans, men and women at their first show who left that night like starry-eyed converts, howling with delight.
It's back to what McGuigan said: "The fans love him." It is also that Frampton gives the purists and the converts a text-book version of a compact, busy little puncher, a fighter at ease dropping his opponents and never changing his expression.
I have watched people – in a similar way to Ricky Hatton fans – get close to Frampton, move to his shoulder and not ask for a picture or an autograph but just to shake his hand and make eye contact. "They just want to touch him and he's touchable," said Jake McGuigan, who works with his father on the promotion.
They will be back outside on 4 April listening to every punch as the crowd inside keeps up a relentless backdrop of oohs and arghs. It feels like a step back in time and Frampton looks and fights like a man from another era. He is just a proper fighter, in proper fights, and he is "touchable", which is the main thing in Belfast.
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