Night of reckoning for 'The Jackal'
Andrew Harrison ponders what Saturday night's battle with Nonito Donaire may mean for Carl 'The Jackal' Frampton's boxing career...
On Saturday night, we'll know a bit more about how much Carl Frampton has left. If that seems a strange thing to say about a 31-year-old former two-weight world title-holder who has lost just once (narrowly, to a similarly-accomplished fighter) in 25 bouts, it's worth pointing out we aren't second-guessing Frampton's physical reserves.
After out-boxing Scott Quigg and Leo Santa Cruz to become the Boxing Writers Association of America's Fighter of the Year for 2016, Frampton's bandwagon stalled. As his stock peaked, the Belfast man ceded home advantage for the January 2017 rematch with Santa Cruz in Las Vegas. Strangely overconfident, 'The Jackal' was then narrowly outfoxed when the Mexican opted to box, rather than fight (a strategy he'd been transparent about throughout fight week).
Frampton's comeback fight at home in Northern Ireland's capital was a disaster. His relationship with the McGuigan family, of which he had long seemed an honorary member, had taken the darkest of turns. One of the tightest bonds in boxing was soon severed, with writs and counter-writs following (and ongoing). It is the type of regrettable episode boxing excels at.
Before things came to a head, the Tigers Bay wizard, weary and disillusioned, began counting down the days to his retirement. Embarrassingly, he missed weight. Any further blushes that may have been forthcoming were saved when his Mexican opponent Andres Gutierrez fell in the shower on the eve of the event and rearranged his front teeth. The fight was off and Frampton's long-term partnership with the McGuigans with it.
Frampton relocated to Manchester to work with trainer Jamie Moore – a promising relationship that has yet to develop the same synergy Frampton had with former coach Shane McGuigan. After signing a promotional deal with Frank Warren's Queensberry Promotions, the eminently likeable Frampton returned against colossal Mexican Horacio Garcia in November – punching out a hard-earned ten-round decision that bore some similarities to his unanimous decision victory over the ill-fated Alejandro Gonzalez Jr., in Texas, back in 2015. They were dour struggles, both.
Despite assurances to the contrary, with a court case looming over him there are legitimate grounds to question Frampton's frame of mind heading into Saturday's fight. After splitting with promoter Warren at the height of his career in 2013, three-weight world title-holder Ricky Burns seemed fortunate to escape defeat in his next two bouts against Jose A. Gonzalez and Raymundo Beltrán (officially scoring a win and a draw in bouts that could quite easily have gone against him).
The Scotsman then lost three of his next four contests before being declared bankrupt at the end of a protracted legal battle with Warren. Burns alleged the strain of the litigation process had adversely affected his ability to perform.
On the bright side, Frampton has been matched well. His opponent, Filipino Nonito Donaire, 38-4 (24 KOs), is a once outstanding bantamweight, who at 35-years-old and two divisions removed from his best weight, offers the right level of name value and diminished risk to secure Frampton a morale-boosting win.
And make no mistake, that is precisely what is required. Frampton's masterplan is to box for a world title outdoors at the national stadium, Windsor Park, this summer. That could be against the high-octane WBO champion Oscar Valdez (currently recovering from a grotesquely broken jaw suffered at the hands of Scott Quigg) or more likely the winner of next month's IBF world title grudge match in Leeds that pits current holder Lee Selby against popular contender Josh Warrington.
Warren has expertly positioned Frampton for a crack at either belt (the WBO's stepping stone interim title has been appended to the Donaire match). Should Frampton manage to regain a world title before his adoring masses later this year (and he will be favoured to, should he perform as expected on Saturday) he'll then target the rubber match with Santa Cruz – one that would settle a score and with it, featherweight supremacy. That perfect scenario is all in play, starting Saturday in Belfast.