Tonight Frank Warren and Boxnation present a tremendous fight card in Belfast, headlined by the return of local hero Carl Frampton. Local hero has perhaps now become too small a title for Frampton, having firmly elevated himself to global status in 2016. However, what that year presented in glory, 2017 matched with tribulation. A loss, missing weight, a last-minute fight cancellation, and perhaps most painfully, a fracturing of the Frampton-McGuigan relationship. Frampton is too classy to have publicly vented any grievances about the Cyclone team, but the positivity he has exuded since taking up residency at Jamie Moore’s Manchester gym speaks volumes. (Besides, sit at any table in any Belfast bar for long enough and you will overhear a tale or two about the McGuigans.) Frampton’s down-to-earth attitude allows him to straddle both worlds; he can be a global superstar, yet still maintains his local boy likeability. This is in part due to his typically Belfastian self-deprecating humour. A perfect example of this is a tongue-in-cheek quote from an interview with Belfast satirical news website ‘The Ulster Fry’, where Frampton states, “I was considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, then I got beat in my last fight so I blame Brexit.”
Jamie Moore has stated that no radical changes are being made to Carl’s fighting style, but it will be very interesting to see how the former champion’s existing skills will have been honed by his new trainer.
WBO Bantamweight World Champion Zolani Tete features on the undercard, fighting fellow South-African Siboniso Gonya. Tete is hell to fight; a 5’9” bantamweight, and a southpaw, with tremendous footwork, who throws piston-like straight shots with both hands to the head and body. A classy operator, Tete hopes that impressing the Belfast crowd could lead to a unification fight with local boy and IBF titleholder, Ryan Burnett. He is expected to dominate his largely unknown opponent, and will hopefully expand his fanbase. Who doesn’t want to root for a rags-to-riches guy, who used one of his first big paydays to buy his mother a prosthetic leg?
Tete by TKO
Also on the bill are Paddy Barnes, and Jamie Conlan, both Belfast boys, both friends of Frampton. In his fifth professional fight, double-Olympic bronze medallist Barnes will face 21-6-3 Nicaraguan, Eliecer Quezada for the vacant WBO intercontinental title. Barnes is his own harshest detractor, and despite his perfect pro record, has expressed criticism of his performances in post-fight interviews. He is a talented technical boxer, with a high work rate and blistering hand speed, but seems to have found the transition from amateur to pro jarring. One concern has been his perceived lack of power, which seemed a factor in his bout against Silviu Olteanu, which he won by majority decision. Olteanu was technically outclassed but seemed able to walk through Barnes’ punches, placing constant pressure on the former-Olympian. However, in his most recent fight against Juan Hinostroza, Barnes showed signs of adjusting from the point scoring, rapid-fire amateur style, with more hurtful punches, flooring his opponent in the second round. Barnes had proved his pedigree long before turning pro, but at thirty years old will be looking to step up in class quickly if he is to land a world title shot.
Barnes by UD
A potential fight of the evening comes from Jamie Conlan’s world title attempt against Filipino Jerwin Ancajas, the IBF Super Flyweight World Champion. Few fighters have worked as hard for a world title fight as Conlan. His time in the professional ranks has been hampered by injuries and management issues, but more significant are the brutal, relentless nature of the fights which have characterised his career. His willingness to go to war with opponents, to be bloody, to be dropped only to rise, and to always, somehow, grind out a victory have earned him the nickname, ‘The Irish Gatti’, and made him a firm fan-favourite. His 2016 fight with Anthony Nelson was an instant classic and should be required viewing for anyone with an interest in British and Irish boxing. Ancajas is the bookies’ choice, and on paper, it is easy to see why; he is younger than Conlan, with more professional fights. He is patient, versatile and powerful, with a sharp southpaw right hook and hammer straight lefts. But Conlan is not to be written off. This fight will be largely influenced by the fighters’ composure; when Conlan is relaxed, his counter-punches become beautiful counter-combinations, and his body work is accurate and punishing. It is also unlikely that Ancajas will have faced anyone with as much grit as the Irishman. Combine that with the home crowd advantage and Conlan could upset the odds, lift the title and finally get the recognition he deserves.
Conlan by SD
Tonight, Frampton will look to make a statement to the international boxing community, as he showcases his considerable skillset against tough Mexican Horacio Garcia, 33-3-1 (24 KOs). Garcia, a stablemate of Canelo Alvarez, has never been stopped. He is a solid boxer, who invests in his punches and has the power to hurt, but he doesn’t use his feet and ever so slightly telegraphs his shots. Frampton will make him miss and counter when he wants, but don’t be surprised if the Belfast man plants his feet and trades at times. But on a local level, there is a sense in which the outcome matters little. From the press seats at Jamie Conlan’s last fight at the Waterfront Hall, I watched Frampton sitting at ringside. Between every bout, he smiled for selfies with an endless stream of young fans, never frowning, dismissing no one. Frampton is a peoples’ champion; he could lose every fight from now until his retirement and the streets of Northern Ireland would still welcome him as a conqueror. And when he does win on Saturday and win he will, the cheers of the fighting Irish will shake the boggy foundations of Belfast.
Frampton by UD4 min