Frontline diary: Off with a bang

Danny Winterbottom
23/12/2018 10:47pm

Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Danny Winterbottom reports from ringside in Manchester on a night when the battle between Josh Warrington and Carl Frampton evoked memories of lower weight wars from days gone by...

It was like the ending to the perfect Christmas party that nobody wanted to leave. Long after the final bell had sounded to signal the conclusion of what had been a truly monumental and brutal 12-round battle between IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington and WBO Interim boss Carl Frampton, pockets of fight fans, men and women alike, stood shoulder to shoulder in the bleachers of the Manchester Arena in awe of what they had just witnessed.

Leeds warrior Josh Warrington and Belfast hero Carl Frampton had produced the kind of scintillating and spine chilling action fight that brought back memories of some of the most historic lower weight class wars of all time. Replace the BT Sport commentary team with Marv Albert and Dr Ferdie Pacheco of NBC Sportsworld and you could have been watching Bobby Chacon and Boza Edwards beat each other from pillar to post in their second fight in 1983, or the thriller that was Michael Brodie vs Injin Chi here at the Manchester Arena.

Ok, the above statement could be a little bit of hyperbole and exaggeration to make a point (no fight in history could be as good as Boza vs Chacon 2!) but for this writer at least, it was amongst the best fights I have ever witnessed from ringside in years of covering the sweet science.  It was that good, breathtakingly good.

Back in May, Warrington took Lee Selby by surprise with the intensity at which he fought over 12 rounds as he snatched the IBF featherweight title from the Welshman’s clutches in an outdoor extravaganza at Elland Road, Leeds. Against Frampton, in his first defence of the title, Josh turned up the intensity temperature from boiling to unbearable as he waged a terrific war on the inside that forced Frampton to fire back or get swamped by a hail of punches that seemed to never stop hitting him square in the face.

In the second round Warrington again let rip with a tidal wave of blows and Frampton was visibly shaken on at least two occasions. The fact that Frampton didn’t go down is testament to his incredible toughness and pride and later he confessed that Warrington hit far harder than he expected and than his record suggests. It was the speed and accuracy of the Warrington blows that struck me, like a wind up toy that had been primed and then unleashed and Frampton was forced to react when he would have preferred to box his way into the fight.

To his credit Frampton regrouped in round three and he took the round on the BM scorecard with some clever back foot boxing, but even in the odd rounds that Frampton won on my card (rounds 3,4, and 5 with a share of the seventh) he was still forced to fight like hell by Warrington who had the demeanour of a man who wouldn’t be denied the biggest win of his career.

Warrington really has developed into an excellent inside fighter.  Here against Frampton he was able to use his shoulders and arms to straighten up the Irishman to allow a clean path for some hurtful looking body shots that reddened the rib cage of ‘The Jackal’. It was rare that Warrington lost an exchange whenever the pair came to blows up close, which was often, and this set the tone for the fight.

In the end Frampton was a beaten man who had met his match and more in the form of Josh Warrington. Even Boxing Monthly columnist Billy Graham, who knows a thing or two about big fight nights at the Manchester Arena, was impressed!

Later, when speaking to BT Sport, Frampton, now 32, indicated that this epic battle could be his last and if that proves to be the case the little pocket rocket from Belfast has gone out with a bang.

As for Josh Warrington his 2018 couldn’t have gone any better. With back to back wins over Lee Selby and now Carl Frampton a case can be made for Warrington to be named domestic Fighter of the Year alongside Callum Smith and if he ventures Stateside in 2019 or if Frank Warren manages to bring over the likes of Leo Santa Cruz or Oscar Valdez to Leeds, boxing fans will be in for a treat!

The undercard began when most people in Manchester, including this writer, were still finishing off their Christmas shopping and it was around this time that Billy Joe Saunders appeared for the first time since he tested positive for a banned substance and was forced to relinquish his WBO middleweight title as he easily defeated 75-year-old (Ok, 41-year-old) Charles Adamu in the fourth round of a scheduled eight.

Saunders, now unbeaten in 27 fights, had easily defeated dangerous Canadian puncher David Lemieux last time out in defence of his world title but against Adamu he weighed around 170lbs. Saunders will be hoping for a successful return to the middleweight division in 2019.

Chief support to the main event saw former British champion at light middleweight Liam Williams take unbeaten Oldham puncher Mark Heffron to school as he halted the local favourite after ten one-sided rounds to claim the vacant British title at middleweight.

Williams, now under the guidance of Dominic Ingle after years with Gary Lockett, produced one of the most mature performances of his career as he boxed rings around Heffron who seemed to ‘freeze’ on the big stage. He simply couldn’t get going and as the fight advanced into the later stages he began to ship some heavy blows from Williams who had fought at a much higher level and the difference in big fight experience told.

In round 10 Williams, who continually snapped back the head of Heffron with his jab and right hands, landed a powerful right that rooted Heffron to the spot and the Welshman noticed this immediately as he waded in with more clubbing blows. Cries came from ringside for Heffron’s team, led by trainer Kevin Maree, to throw in the towel and for referee Howard Foster to stop the fight fell on deaf ears as Williams continued to brutalise Heffron with power punches before finally, the beating was ended at 1-55 of the 10th.

The build up to the bout had seen both men show distain for one another with Williams saying at the final press conference, “if he puts his punches together like he puts sentences together, he’s in big trouble” and we saw some Tyson-Lewis like in ring security (in fact two members of the Arena security team) to keep them away from each other! 

‘Shocked expression of 2018’ goes to Martin Murray for his reaction to losing his WBC Silver middleweight title to Hassan N’Dam on points over 12 tepid rounds. The judges saw the bout 117-112, 116-112 and 114-114 for the new champion who celebrated like he’d just won a version of the world title.

Murray was genuinely shocked. As the decision was read out he turned to members of his team and asked “What the fuck?’ In his unmistakable Sint Helins (St Helens) accent. On my card at least he had a case for feeling a touch aggrieved at the decision after scoring a flash knock down of N’Dam early in the fight and landing some nice body shots in a fight that didn’t have a lot in each round.

Murray’s problem has always been his punch output and the fact that he can appear one-paced without an injection of urgency in his work.  He is a neat and tidy boxer with a granite chin and a tight defence but too often he let N’Dam dictate the action which obviously caught the eye of the judges. One thing that certainly caught the eye of ringsiders was Mrs N’Dam’s dress that didn’t leave much to the imagination when she clambered through the ropes to take a selfie with Hassan and the rest of his team.

But enough of that. N’Dam ended 2018 on a high but for Murray, who will fly out to join the rest of his family on a cruise in Vietnam today, will have a lot of thinking to do as to where he goes from here.

Elsewhere on the undercard Ricky Hatton trained heavyweight Nathan Gorman was forced to go the full 12-round distance by Razvan Cojanu, who had recently lost to Luis Ortiz and Joseph Parker, in a big step up for the Northwich youngster who is now unbeaten in 15 fights with 11 wins coming via the short route.

Cojanu played the joker throughout the contest, constantly talking to Gorman and pulling faces at Ricky Hatton whenever he came close to the Gorman corner.

In one funny exchange, Hatton had barked orders at Gorman asking for more punch output and when he connected with a short right hand Cojanu stuck his tongue out at Hatton and said something to the former two weight world champion. Hatton responded by telling the big heavyweight, “I’d knock you out you big lump” much to the amusement of ringsiders. To be fair to Cojanu, who was about three times the size of Hatton, he didn’t take it too seriously as the pair exchanged a friendly embrace at the end of the fight which Gorman won wide on the cards, 119-109 twice and 120-108 on the other of the judge's cards.

As the night came to an end and I finally made it out of the arena and into my car I had time to reflect on what we had just witnessed. In the heat of the moment images of some of the best lower weight class wars of all time had popped into my mind as Warrington and Frampton waged war less than 20 feet away from me.

Had I been carried away by the whole occasion?  Possibly. But isn’t that what the best sporting moments are supposed to do? Frank Warren called it the best British fight he had ever seen. It was certainly one of the best fights I’ve ever seen from ringside. On refection Warrington had bossed the fight with Frampton desperately trying to hang on to the whirlwind he found in front of him.

Unlike some of the Christmas crackers that will be pulled up and down the country in a few days, this one went off with a bang!