Frampton expects night of the Jackal
Listening to Carl Frampton ooze confidence ahead of his showdown with long-time rival Scott Quigg on 27 February, a coolness delivered in his deep and authoritative Ulster dialect, makes it hard to believe that the UK’s first super fight of 2016 will be anything other than a celebratory affair in Belfast.
IBF junior featherweight champion Frampton, 21-0 (14 KOs), was in the process of ramping up his training regimen and looking forward to the highly anticipated clash when Boxing Monthly spoke with him. Already six weeks into camp, the Tigers Bay “Jackal” had eased through light sparring with London-based prospects George Jupp and Tommy Martin. He felt sharper than usual. His weight was better in comparison to previous camps, also. He seemed relaxed and utterly self-possessed.
Frampton allowed himself the luxury of spending a week with his family over the festive season. He joked about closing his eyes when the “Quality Streets” (confectionary) were passed around, and foregoing the mulled wine. A Christmas dinner was his only concession to the indulgence that, for most, accompanies the season of good cheer. “I would never begrudge myself a Christmas dinner,” he said. After all, there was still a lot of time to go before the fight.
The fight. When asked whether this was the defining contest of his career, Frampton wavered, as if reluctant to grant Quigg such a distinction.
“At this part of my career – yes,” was his considered response. “But I imagine that when I retire, people will talk about bigger fights. This is a big fight in the UK. On the world scene it’s not so much but, obviously, it’s caught the attention of the UK fans with me being from Northern Ireland and Quigg being from England.
“With my travelling support, the atmosphere’s going to be incredible. I’ve wanted this fight for a very long time. There’s been a bit of tension between both camps. I would say that [trainers] Shane McGuigan and Joe Gallagher don’t really see eye-to-eye. We’ve also had our problems with [Quigg’s promoter] Eddie Hearn in the past so there’s a bit of history there. It is a big fight but it’s not going to be the defining fight of my career. No way.”
Antipathy between the rival teams peaked during a three-leg press tour that unfolded in London, Manchester and Belfast, throughout which Team Quigg seemed intent on stinging Frampton’s pride. One jibe even managed to draw the ire of Frampton’s usually affable mentor, Barry McGuigan. Gallagher (Quigg’s trainer) predicted an easy night for his man, while a curiously cavalier Quigg intimated that Frampton had been exposed in sparring.
Frampton protested: “He said that at some of the press conferences but he’s yet to mention any names so I’ll call him up on that at some point. I think he’s trying to make out that I’ve been knocked out in sparring and nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve never been knocked out in my life. Obviously, in my last fight I was put on my backside twice but I don’t really know what they’re getting at.
“They’re just trying to wind me up. I have plenty of stories that I’ve heard about Quigg in the gym but, again, that’s what they are – stories. So I’ll give him the respect and I’ll not bring them up because I wasn’t there to see it happening, but I did hear about it.
He was equally dismissive of Gallagher’s bold forecast, dismissing it with: “It’s just silly talk. They’re being very arrogant and they’re making these bold statements. I think what they’re trying to do is: they want me to go and stand and have a fight with him - pretty much just stand head-to-head and lock horns and have a fight. You know, they must think that I’m as stupid as Scott Quigg if that’s gonna be the case. I’ll win this fight with a game-plan. I know I’ll come out victorious but these statements that they’re making – it’s just silly. They’re just crap. I know what they trying to do; I know what they’re trying to do but I’m not daft.
“I know that I’ve got a better boxing brain than him. I know that I’m cleverer than him. I know that I’m better in every single department than Quigg. You know, if I wanted to, I could stand and trade with him and have a head-to-head and just go flat out. I could beat him that way but, if I do that, that’s giving him a slight chance. As long as I’m clever throughout this fight, this can be a pretty easy fight. I can make this as easy as I want to.”
Bookmakers have Frampton as the favourite, but Quigg’s odds shortened over the summer. Boxing on the same night in July, Quigg made short work of Spaniard Kiko Martinez in Manchester while, moments later in Texas, Frampton was floored twice in the opening round by Mexican livewire Alejandro Gonzalez Jr before the Ulsterman regrouped to carve out a hard-fought decision. Looking back, Frampton views his difficult American debut as a positive.
“It was a blessing in disguise really because if I’d went in and blown Alejandro Gonzalez out within two rounds, I still don’t think this fight would be happening,” he said. “That’s honestly how I feel. Quigg and his team are getting some sort of confidence from that. They think that there’s vulnerabilities there because of my bad first round but that was just me being stupid; that was me being overeager and thinking I was just going to blow this guy away. Obviously Quigg is an even better fighter than Gonzalez. I respect him as a fighter. I think he’s a good fighter, so I’m not going to make that mistake again.
“I’m still the favourite. If you look at what we’ve done in our last ten fights and compare them then I’ve always fought the better opposition. I’ve always put in the better performances so I’d say the bookies are probably calling it right.”
There’s a sense that Frampton’s feelings about the Bury puncher have changed since the bout was signed. It brings to mind Marvin Hagler, who moved from a position of professional respect to one of personal enmity after a fortnight on the road with Thomas Hearns prior to their middleweight epic in 1985.
“Quigg tries to come across as a man of the people and a real nice guy, humble, down to earth, but just from being involved in making this fight and hearing some of the things Quigg’s said himself, he isn’t really that guy,” Frampton said. “He thinks that he’s above everyone. Maybe that wee bit of arrogance – he’s reined it in [previously]. It’s started to come out a little bit because of how big this fight is. If you’re hanging around with Eddie Hearn and Joe Gallagher, then I suppose their arrogance is going to rub off on you and maybe that’s the reason, too.”
Frampton finds his new stablemates, heavyweight David Haye and super middleweight George Groves - who are attempting to revive their careers under Frampton’s impressive young coach, Shane McGuigan – are having a positive influence.
“It’s good being around quality and big personalities,” Frampton said of the duo. “We’re all feeding off each other. It’s good to have these sorts of names [in camp]. I’ve been raving about Shane for a very, very long time. I honestly believe that he’s the best coach in the UK. I know he’s young and people will look down on that just because of how young he is - talking about his lack of experience and stuff - but I promise you there’ll be more and more people knocking on the door because he’s an incredible coach. He really is.
“If you listen to how he reacts in the corner, he’s very calm and nothing really riles him. He just gets on. He has full belief in me and the rest of the guys he trains. He only takes fighters on who he believes can win world titles. Honestly, he’s a top quality coach. He knows the game inside out. He’s been around it all his life obviously with who his dad was.”
Frampton isn’t sure whether the fight with Quigg will be his last at 122 lbs. “I don’t know,” he said. “It depends. I’ll be 29 by the time this fight comes around. I’m not getting any bigger, I don’t have to move up if I don’t want to but I want to. I do want to. I want to fight at featherweight. I want to win world titles at the weight above. If a fight comes about at featherweight against a name, then I’d be happy to do that but I’d also be willing to hang around super bantamweight for a few more fights. It just depends what sort of options appear after the Quigg fight.”
Many would like to see the victor challenge the boxer regarded as the super bantamweight division’s true boss: the masterful Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux. Would Frampton consider fighting “Rigo” after Quigg?
“I would hope so,” Frampton said regarding a prospective fight with “El Chacal”. “In my opinion, yeah, if you want to be the best in the super bantamweight division, he’s the man you have to beat and I’d be happy to tackle him. I believe that I’m the only super bantamweight in the world who could possibly beat Rigo. I’m not going to say it’s gonna be an easy task but I think I’ve got the style, I’ve got the grit and the balls to go in there and I could beat him. I would like to fight him one day.
“Obviously with the magnitude of the fight in the UK and Ireland it will get a lot of attention and there’s going to be big names wanting me. Guys in America, they’ll want to fight me because they know the sort of money that a fight with me can generate just through ticket sales and TV viewership and everything else. Once I get rid of Quigg, there’ll be loads of options and I’ll just need to sit down with the team and we’ll take it from there.”
He was quick to spurn the idea that this could rule out a return to Belfast, where he draws huge crowds and generates “a crazy, fanatical atmosphere.” Though he’s almost certainly outgrown the city’s indoor venues, Frampton suggested Windsor Park (currently being redeveloped into an 18,000 all-seater stadium) could accommodate him during the warmer months. And while many travelling fans complained about losing out to secondary ticketing websites, Manchester’s Shambles Square is likely to feel like Belfast’s Golden Mile come fight night.
“I have no doubt in my mind that I will have more people in the arena than Quigg will have – even though it’s in Manchester,” he said. “The guy just doesn’t sell the tickets – I don’t know why that is – but I’m speaking the truth here. He doesn’t sell many tickets. I’ll be bringing a big fan-base with me. Also, you’ll not be able to get a seat in a pub in Belfast I don’t imagine that night. The whole place will be packed and buzzing and people are getting excited – I am, too, you know? It’s been a long time coming. I think as the weeks get a wee bit closer, as I start sparring and [start] getting further into my camp – it feels a bit more real.”