The most dangerous fight is the one before the money, the one before the title, the one where the home boxer is the massive favourite.
It is Carl Frampton's time to have that fight on Friday night at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast when the local idol –the only way to describe his impact on the boxing scene in the city – fights Mexico's former world champion Hugo Fidel Cazares.
The fight is a necessary final eliminator for the WBC's super-bantamweight title, which means that if Frampton wins he will get a world title fight on better terms and without having to surrender so many advantages. He would get to fight the champion, the unbeaten Leo Santa Cruz, most probably back in Belfast later this year; if he loses he drops out of the title picture and tumbles away from the money.
"It's a hard business and there are many risks," said Barry McGuigan, who manages Frampton and was once capable of silencing the city's streets when he was in the ring. "There are other ways to get world titles but Carl has always wanted to do it the proper way and that means beating men like Cazares in eliminators."
Cazares is battle-scarred, hardened by 15 world title fights and a brutal history of fighting exceptional men on the road. He insists that there is nothing that will cause him a problem once the first bell tolls in Belfast. His two title fights against unbeaten Ivan Calderon in Puerto Rico were savage, bloody and close – a perfect reminder of the Mexican's fearless credentials.
"Well, that's his opinion if he thinks that he has fought in front of a crowd like this before," Frampton said. I have to agree with him, I have never been anywhere like Belfast on a real fight night, including ringside when over 140,000 people packed the iconic Azteca in Mexico City for Julio Cesar Chavez in 1993.
"This is a fight that I never had to take," Cazares said. "I have the fight with Santa Cruz for the world title; it's made and it will be a big Mexican fight, but I'm here for Frampton because I like a challenge. I'm a fighter and I need to make sure that I get to Santa Cruz first." McGuigan also had to dig deep into his pocket to make it happen.
Frampton, unbeaten in 17, is a fighter who can finally rival the following of McGuigan's own devoted flock, and that is potentially a problem. He must keep winning in a city with the world's most knowledgeable boxing fans. The supply line of easy fights ended prematurely and his ruthless defeat of Kiko Martinez at the Odyssey in February last year is a perfect example; the venue was not quite sold out, Martinez has gone on to win and defend a world title and has sensibly avoided a rematch. In Belfast the fans recognise a wrong and have responded with stunning sold-out nights; they know now that they have a real fighter to back.
"The fans here come out because they know they will get a real fight," Frampton said. "It's good that Santa Cruz has agreed to fight me because Martinez is running away and to be honest I don't blame him. The pressure is on beating Cazares and not making any mistakes."
Frampton also has to look good beating Cazares, who held world titles at lighter weights but is probably on the gentle slope of decline at 36. But the Mexican has a proven record of travelling, being the underdog, fighting unbeaten men and exposing their dreams. Frampton will need to show that he is special once again and, in a business drenched in too much corporate hype, he is a refreshing little idol desperate to be champion.
"Carl just loves to fight," McGuigan said. "He is the most relaxed fighter, he loves it in there. He is calm, he is cool." On Friday he will also need to be ruthless and I have a funny feeling he will find that easy, too.Reuse content