Carl Frampton: man with a plan

John A. MacDonald
27/01/2017 8:55am

Photo: Ryan Greene / Premier Boxing Champions

Carl Frampton has it all worked out, from the tactics he’ll use in the Leo Santa Cruz rematch to his future in boxing. And, as John A. MacDonald discovers, he’s also putting a time limit on his career...

Following on from the most successful 12 months of his career, Carl Frampton is starting 2017 in the same manner as he began the last — in training for a big fight.

In 2016, it was his highly anticipated showdown with domestic rival Scott Quigg. This year, Frampton is preparing to face Leo Santa Cruz, in a rematch of their fight of the year contender, on 28 January at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, with the WBA “super” and WBC Diamond featherweight titles on the line.

Once more, Frampton has found himself watching his weight at a time when others are indulging but the 29-year-old takes it in his stride.

“I’m used to it, and I understand the game I’m in,” Frampton told Boxing Monthly over the phone from the flat of his trainer, Shane McGuigan, with whom he stays during camp. “It’s a short career, so I’m happy to make sacrifices just now. In a few years’ time, when I pack it in, there will be plenty more Christmases where I can get fat, drink and do what the normal guys do.”

The Santa Cruz victory was more pleasing to Frampton than the win over Quigg. “I would say the Quigg one was pretty satisfying because there was a pretty intense rivalry there, but I knew I was going to win the fight,” Frampton said. “I was a bit annoyed one of the judges actually had him winning. I think I won the fight clearly, without getting out of second gear.

“The Santa Cruz fight kinda made the American public sit up and take notice of me. Some people have me in their top 10 pound-for-pound lists, and that was not all to do with the Santa Cruz victory — but the Santa Cruz victory had a lot to do with it. I knew I was going to beat Scott Quigg. I was very, very confident of victory.”

Despite all the hostility between both sets of trainers, promoters and fighters in the build-up, Frampton said he never felt the temptation to try to turn the Quigg fight into a barnburner and candidly described the bout as a “stinker”.

“A lot of people thought he was going to come in straight away and have a fight, but Shane reckoned that he was going to go backwards, and he was right,” Frampton said. “I hit him with a solid jab in the first round, and I remember his eyes lighting up, and he was blinking a lot. I think that was when he became unwilling to engage.

“I was winning the rounds by doing very little. You are starting to blow after six or seven rounds, usually, then you get a second wind coming. I felt as fresh coming out for the seventh as I did coming out for the first. There was no need to get involved in a fight. If he had come to me, it would have been a little bit more exciting and a bit better.”

The Quigg fight would prove to be Frampton’s last at junior featherweight. Making the weight incorrectly put his IBF junior featherweight title — and the subsequent fights with Quigg and Santa Cruz — at risk when Frampton found himself on the canvas twice against the unheralded Alejandro Gonzalez Jr.


Photo: Esther Lin / Showtime

Aided by a 14-week training camp as opposed to his usual 12 weeks, Frampton made weight for the Quigg bout with uncharacteristic ease. He contemplated remaining in the 122lbs division. Then the opportunity arose to face Santa Cruz, who had been in Frampton’s sights for some time. (Frampton was mandatory challenger for Santa Cruz’s WBC title when both boxed at 122lbs, but he took a different route, beating Kiko Martinez for the IBF version.) 

“Because I made super bantamweight for the Quigg fight more comfortably than I had been making it previously, I was thinking I could still do it, but it was always taking something away from me,” Frampton said. “I always said [on a move up in weight]: ‘I don’t want eliminators, I want big fights.’ The Santa Cruz fight was put in front of me and I accepted straight away. I was confident I was going to beat him.”

When Frampton discusses his bout with Quigg, his voice is flat, much as the fight itself was. The same cannot be said when he talks about his contest with Santa Cruz. For the first time in his career, the “Jackal” found himself as an underdog, a role he says he relished.

“I think it was a good performance,” Frampton said. “He’s a three-weight world champion, he’s a tough guy, he’s very fit, throws a lot of punches. I think 33 out of 35 American journalists had written me off. I was an underdog in that fight, not a lot of pressure on me.

“Our game plan was to make sure he respected my power early on in the fight, and hit him hard. I did that early in the second round, and it shook him. There were mistakes I made. No fighter in the world is perfect. There’s always adjustments you can make to make things better. In terms of the performance, for the first fight at featherweight, I give it an eight out of 10.”

Frampton admits that he engaged with Santa Cruz more than he had intended to, at times getting involved in the type of fight his opponent thrives on. “It would have been better if I’d used my feet a little bit more,” he said. “We knew there was going to be a time in the fight where I would have to stand, bite down on the gumshield and just have a fight, but I felt comfortable doing that and I enjoyed it.

“It felt like I was hurting him more than he was hurting me. I probably did get drawn into his fight a little bit more than I should have, but that made it exciting, that made it a contender for fight of the year. That made people sit up and take notice. After a boring Scott Quigg fight, they are thinking: ‘Frampton is an exciting fighter again.’”

For the rematch, Frampton will once again bring an army of travelling fans with him from Northern Ireland. In the Californian leg of their two-stop press tour, Frampton revealed how one fan sold his wife’s car to make the pilgrimage to support him.

With supporters paying so much to watch the fight, it would be understandable if Frampton felt the need to produce another war. However, he believes that even if the rematch doesn’t surpass the first contest it will still deliver plenty of action.

“I think that with Santa Cruz’s style, it can’t be anything but an exciting fight,” Frampton said. “I can use my brain a little bit more, but if it’s a little bit less exciting than the first one, but I get the win, then that’s all well and good. I don’t think the fans would be unhappy at all. And if it’s a little bit less exciting than the first one, it’s still going to be an exciting fight. Our styles gel pretty well. He’s tough, typical Mexican, no quit in him. He’ll keep coming until he can’t come no more.”

Frampton’s suggestion that he could make adjustments is supported by previous fights where he has boxed diligently to the game plan. Santa Cruz fought the first contest at a frantic pace, as he always does. However, Frampton isn’t convinced that his opponent can alter the way he boxes.

“I don’t think he can do much different,” Frampton said. “He’s talking about [how] he’s gonna become more intense, and throw more shots, but he threw over 1,000 shots. If he does want to throw more, it’s just giving me the opportunity to nail him clean again.

“Throughout his whole career, he’s fought the same way. He wears people down and he overwhelms them. But he hasn’t fought a fighter like me who’s hitting him very, very hard, and hurting him. That’s the difference.”

Frampton has too much respect for Santa Cruz to underestimate him but admits that he has IBF featherweight champion Lee Selby in mind as a future big-fight opponent, with both men aligned to advisor Al Haymon.

“Obviously, every fighter will say ‘You can’t look too far ahead,’ but I believe that it is important to look slightly ahead,” Frampton said. “It is important to look to the future and potential opponents. Lee Selby is the name that jumps out to me. He’s the one I want to fight next, after Santa Cruz.

“It would be a huge fight back home in Belfast. We could do it early summer, outdoors, Windsor Park [the Northern Irish national football stadium], sell 25,000 tickets, and it’s a unification fight as well. I would love that fight with Selby. This isn’t me slating or badmouthing Selby. He’s a great fighter. But you want to talk about legacy, and the purse that comes with it, I think the Selby fight is the one after Santa Cruz.”

Frampton isn’t afraid to discuss the financial side of boxing. Some fans criticise fighters for wanting large purses rather than looking to fight the best. Frampton is pursuing titles and seeking to cement his legacy — but he is looking to secure his family’s financial future in the process.

“I want to get out on top,” he said. “I want big names and world titles. Obviously, the purse comes along with the big names. It is important. I know people raise their eyebrows when you talk about money, but this is a hard game. You need to be rewarded, especially when you’ve got a young family.

“I’ve put my whole life into this. I’ve been boxing since I was seven years old. I deserve to be well paid for fighting the best — and I am being well paid.”

Frampton acknowledges he has a good role model in mentor Barry McGuigan, who retired before his 30th birthday and has invested his money wisely. “Barry has always said to me: ‘You get out on top, winning world titles, with money in the bank,’” Frampton said.

“I heard recently a story that Iran Barkley was sleeping on park benches and stuff. It’s hard to imagine. It’s important to have a good team around you, but it’s also important to be sensible yourself, and [that] you know what’s right and what’s wrong. A lot of boxers get carried away with the fame.

“It is a working-class sport, and most of the guys are working-class guys who are making money they’ve never had before [so] they go mad and make stupid decisions and do stupid things.

“I never had much money growing up. I came from working-class Belfast [Tigers Bay]. We weren’t well off. We got by, and that was it. I’m not daft. I’ve got two kids — it’s their money. I think Barry had the same philosophy. He’s a family man and wanted to provide for his kids and his family. I think that’s a sensible way to look at it.”

Frampton is determined not to become the cliché of the boxer who fights on far too long and has a clear idea in mind of when he’d like to walk away.

“I’m 30 on my next birthday — if I’m still boxing when I’m 34, I’ll be disappointed in myself,” Frampton said. “If there is anything going downhill — I don’t have the same reaction, or I’m getting beat up in sparring by guys who I’d have been beating up maybe a year or so before — then that will be the time to get out.

“I believe I’m not going to be one of these boxers who hangs around for a very long time. I also believe that the team around me, Barry, Shane, and everyone else, will be honest and tell me when the time is right to hang them up. If I’m still in this game at 34, I hope someone gives me a shake and says: ‘Get out!’”

Once Frampton retires he wants to repay his wife, Christine, with the same support she has shown him during his boxing career. Christine has a degree in criminology and criminal justice but has put her career on hold to raise their two young children.

“She’s a really clever girl — much cleverer than I am, but don’t be telling her that,” Frampton said with a laugh. “She worked so hard in school, and university and everything else, to come out with a degree. It’s almost as if it’s been wasted, and that’s because of me. I owe her a hell of a lot. I’m happy to back her in whatever she wants to do.”

For the moment, though, Frampton’s focus is on Santa Cruz and fulfilling a life-long dream of topping a bill at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

“It’s something to reflect on when you retire, and people will — hopefully — talk about it for a long time,” Frampton said. “It is the mecca of boxing — the MGM. All the big names have fought there. I’m honoured to be topping the bill there.

“I think this fight deserved to be on the big stage. I can’t wait to see my name up in lights. It’s a box ticked as well.

“I wanted to be a world champion, that was my dream — I’ve ticked that box.

“I’ve won a world title in a second weight division, which is something I never even thought about when I turned professional.

“I never really thought about topping a bill in Las Vegas. You can dream of it, but you never think it’s going to happen. When it does happen, it’s a dream come true.”

This article was originally published in the January 2017 edition of Boxing Monthly