When your manager describes you as “the best prospect in 30 years”, the weight of expectation could be a heavy burden. Laconic Carl Frampton simply wears it as a badge of honour.
Former world champion Barry McGuigan has been beating the drum very loudly from the moment he signed the latest Belfast boy seeking to emulate his success in the 1980s.
“Barry’s been raving about me,” said Frampton, a reserved type who admits he “turns into a bit of an animal” (he calls himself ‘The Jackal’) when the lights go down and the ring walk begins.
“He said I was the best prospect in 30 years and we talked about that — he meant to say from Ireland! But that’s still a big shout.
“Barry’s a passionate guy and he’s looking after me. It shows he is really confident in me. He has a reputation and he doesn’t want to be seen to be wrong, so he’s putting his reputation on the line.” Thus far words have been backed up by deeds.
In September Frampton won the vacant Commonwealth title with a fourth-round stoppage over a substitute opponent, Aussie Mark Quon, at Belfast’s Odyssey Arena.
McGuigan had originally arranged for Frampton to challenge Spain’s Kiko Martinez for the European title that night, only for the champion to pull out. But nothing will stop McGuigan driving the 24-year-old on towards the world stage over the next 12 months.
And that’s just the way unbeaten Frampton wants it, with fights against Martinez and new British champion Scott Quigg among other mouthwatering prospective match ups in 2012.
“I know I can push Carl on very quickly because he has the tools to go to the next level,” said McGuigan. “That’s why we wanted the Kiko Martinez fight, because we believe in this guy. He’s a sensational talent.”
An Irish senior champion at flyweight and featherweight, Frampton always looked as if he was made for the professional ranks. Past conversations with the young dynamo suggested to Boxing Monthly that he would have made the move earlier. But the switch eventually came after Frampton had won the national featherweight title in a memorable final in 2009. The Commonwealth Games and Olympic qualification beckoned, but…
“As a young guy, I always wanted to be a professional and be a world champion,” said Frampton, whose talent was nurtured from the beginning by straight-talking Midland ABC boss Billy McKee, one of the most respected men in Irish amateur boxing. McKee’s influence was vital during some tricky times.
“I had a bad patch when I was 16 due to me acting the maggot, drinking a bit, going out with mates too much,” admitted Frampton. “I don’t drink at all now, just special occasions. There’s no need for it.
“Billy hated it and he would hear stories about me. There was always someone to squeal on you. Around the area there were a couple of bars that would let you in, but I was always thinking: ‘Will Billy get to hear [about it]?’
“It was more him than even my mum or dad. My dad was strict, but Billy was super strict. I wasn’t a heavy drinker, but it affects you and it cost me a couple of titles. I just wasn’t putting it [the effort] in.
“I got beat by a guy, Eamon Mangan, who I should never have lost to and I thought: ‘Do I really want to do this?’ I thought about jacking it in a few times. I didn’t say to Billy. I wouldn’t have liked to have said that to him because he was so good to me. He backed me up so often, had so many arguments for me when I would be overlooked. It was internal and I had to work it out for myself.”
The bump in the road overcome, Frampton hasn’t looked back, demonstrating the kind of dedication shown by McGuigan himself in his heyday.When it came to turning professional, as many as half-a-dozen parties were interested, but McGuigan offered the package that suited Frampton best.
“I got a few phone calls and Barry was one of them,” he said. “It was a hard decision because I was No.1 at featherweight and could have gone to the Commonwealth Games and won gold, and then there was the Olympics at 56kg [bantam], which would have been a perfect weight for me. “But John Joe Nevin is at that weight and I wouldn’t beat him as an amateur. His technical ability is unbelievable. I was thinking ahead and wondering: ‘Could I qualify?’ But then after the Olympics I would be 25 and a half, which is a bit late for a smaller guy to turn pro. “So I thought I would go for it if I could get a decent signing-on fee — and I did. So I went and things have worked out very well so far. Barry knows the game, knows about making weight, picking the right fights at the right time and it couldn’t have worked out any better.”
The task of masterminding Frampton’s course up the super bantam rankings has been a McGuigan family affair. The former champion’s son, Shane, has been devoting himself to the fighter’s preparation, working with him in the McGuigan gym in Kent as well as sorting out a diet plan that has seen him go, literally, from strength to strength. “Shane has me in great condition,” said Frampton. “People don’t understand how important doing weights are. There’s a lot of old-school thinking around about weights and how you should run. I very rarely do a long-distance run. I go and do sprints because it’s an explosive sport.
“Shane is a brilliant pad man. He knows a lot and, when you sit and watch opponents, he picks up things twice as fast as me, mistakes they are making. I suppose it is because he’s watched it all his life and he has done a bit himself [picking up amateur titles].
“The diet I am on is called the caveman diet. It’s basically anything available to a caveman. So I have steak in the morning, sometimes lamb, plenty of greens, nuts, protein shakes. I snack on berries. I don’t eat bread or rice. No junk food.” Not that there isn’t time to unwind once the work is done. “After the fight, I eat crap because I’ve been so strict: sweets, crisps and I love sandwiches,” Frampton confessed.
The appliance of science holds sway for the vast majority of the time, though. It is regarded as an important contribution that, allied to the work of veteran Belfast coach Gerry Storey, will lead him to glory.
“Ultimately, I want to be remembered as a great fighter, good guy, a world champion,” he said. “To be mentioned in the same breath as Barry, Dave McAuley, John Caldwell as one of the great Irish fighters.”
That would be some achievement indeed.