Sunday 25 June 2017

Carl Frampton determined to avoid Barry McGuigan's Las Vegas pitfall

Carl Frampton’s professional career has mirrored that of his mentor Barry McGuigan (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Carl Frampton’s professional career has mirrored that of his mentor Barry McGuigan (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Sean McGoldrick

So far Carl Frampton's professional boxing career has mirrored that of his mentor Barry McGuigan in a remarkable way. So much so that the 29-year-old Belfast pugilist holds the same WBA world featherweight belt that McGuigan famously won against Panama's Eusebio Pedroza in Loftus Road more than three decades ago.

But neither master nor pupil will shed any tears if their careers finally diverge sharply this weekend in Las Vegas.

On a sweltering June night in 1986 in the third defence of his title McGuigan sensationally surrendered the belt to the unheralded Steve Cruz in an outdoor fight in the car park of the Caesars Palace Hotel. He subsequently returned to the ring but never looked the same fighter and retired three years later.

Now, his protégé is aiming to do what he failed - bring the WBA featherweight belt back to Ireland after a title fight in Las Vegas, which is arguably the spiritual home of professional boxing.

At least it's winter time in Vegas and Frampton's second showdown with Leo Santa Cruz takes place in the indoor 17,000-seater MGM Grand Garden Arena tomorrow night.

But this is also the venue where Frampton's opponent fashioned most of his headline triumphs on his way to becoming a three-weight world champion before surrendering his WBA crown to the Irishman in his fight in New York last summer.

Read More: "We want to give our children a better life" - Carl Frampton opens up ahead of Las Vegas showdown

The prospect of taking on the 28-year-old Mexican-born LA-based featherweight in what is essentially his home venue doesn't faze Frampton in the least.

"It means absolutely nothing to me that I am fighting him here," he said. "I think I am going to beat him again but this time more convincingly. Once I repeat what I have been doing in training I will do it more comfortably."

Early in January Frampton left his wife Christine, daughter Carla, son Rossa and their pet dog Manny and travelled to Las Vegas together with Barry McGuigan - his son Shane who trains Frampton - and two other boxers from the expanding McGuigan team, Josh Pritchard and Josh Taylor, who is also boxing on the bill tomorrow night, and a chef.

Rigorous

They were based in a suburb of Las Vegas in a house belonging to former world champion Robert Guerrero and they trained in a gym belonging to another boxing champion, Shawn Porter. It was here that Shane McGuigan - who at 28 is a year younger that Frampton - put him through a rigorous regime.

"This is my second fight at featherweight and I feel I'm getting better at the weight. I have done three 12-round spars in the camp, where normally I would do one 12-round spar."

While Frampton won his first world title in the 122-pound super bantamweight category and later unified the division when he outpointed and broke the jaw of the title-holder Scott Quigg last spring in Manchester, he's much more comfortable fighting in the 126-pound featherweight category.

The difference in weight might be only a couple of bags of sugar but it has given Frampton a new lease of life.

"Unless you're in the game you might not understand how big a difference that four pounds in weight actually makes.

"Taking off four pounds to make super bantamweight was affecting my performance. I prefer being up here at featherweight. I really feel like a different man. I'm more happy with everything and I'm able to put a bit more into the sessions now but I can eat more."

The Frampton camp do not expect Santa Cruz to change his all-action style. However, given that he is two-and-a-half inches taller than Frampton, which gives him a seven-inch advantage in reach, a more measured approach might yield better results.

Santa Cruz threw more than 1,000 punches when they clashed in Brooklyn, New York last summer. The problem for Cruz was that only a quarter of those punches (255) actually landed. His style enabled Frampton to accurately pick him off.

Frampton delivered far fewer punches, 668, but crucially 242 of them landed giving him a 36pc strike rate.

And Frampton's punches looked to be carrying more weight and ultimately this swayed two of the judges who sided with the Irishman 117-111 and 116-112 - the other judge scored the contest a draw - which was sufficient for Frampton to dethrone the previously unbeaten Santa Cruz.

For Frampton, it's not just the WBA belt that's up for grabs - there are legacy issues. Already rated by many as the most successful Irish professional boxer in history, Frampton could become the first Irish fighter to go through his career unbeaten.

Win, lose or draw, he is almost certainly guaranteed more lucrative fights before he hangs up his gloves. A win tomorrow night for Frampton and Wales' Lee Selby - who defends his IBF world featherweight title on the same bill - would almost certainly result in a re-unification contest between the pair in Frampton's spiritual sporting home, Windsor Park in Belfast, next summer.

None of this would have been possible had Barry McGuigan not spotted Frampton's talent as an amateur and nurtured his career since then. Outside the ring they are linked as well. Barry, a Catholic, married a Protestant. Frampton, a Protestant from Tiger's Bay, married a Catholic.

So this is Frampton's unique opportunity to exorcise some of the ghosts surrounding McGuigan's heartbreaking loss on that infamous night in Las Vegas.

Irish Independent

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