Saturday 25 February 2017

The champ, the mentor, the iconic picture and a night of nostalgia

Night of the Jackal as McGuigan protégé now has the world at his feet, writes Joe Callaghan

Joe Callaghan

Carl Frampton turns to his trainer Shane McGuigan as Barry McGuigan, left, leads the celebrations Picture: Getty
Carl Frampton turns to his trainer Shane McGuigan as Barry McGuigan, left, leads the celebrations Picture: Getty

A defining image of the most defining night. In the split seconds after Jimmy Lennon Jr uttered the three sweetest words ever to cross Carl Frampton's ears - 'and the new' - the Jackal whirled around, arms aloft and screamed sheer delight in the face of his trainer Shane McGuigan.

To his right, his mentor and spiritual leader, Barry McGuigan, was the most perfect portrait of emotion and ecstasy.

On a night of almost 2,000 punches, this was a picture worth that many words and more. Frampton's stunning triumph over Leo Santa Cruz in Brooklyn on his featherweight debut brought the WBA title back into the McGuigan family 30 years after Barry had surrendered it to another Cruz, Steve.

It also brought Frampton's star soaring to new heights as he served up the performance of a lifetime on his primetime debut Stateside.

"I wanted this kid to win so badly, I wanted him to be in a fight which would be remembered," beamed the elder McGuigan in the hours after victory, Brooklyn still abuzz into Sunday morning with what it had just seen.

"Sure I wanted him to win my old title but I wanted it to be a sensational fight, one that he would and it turned out to be just that. It was amazing, fight of the year material.

"I want people to talk about him the way they talk about me 30 years after he retires. I had the fight with Pedrosa and even the Cruz one was good. That though was phenomenal. It was a great performance against a great fighter, a three-time champ."

On a night of firsts, Frampton inflicted the only defeat of Santa Cruz's career on the Mexican after rocking him with a shuddering second-round left hook that truly set the tone for one of the great Irish fighting nights.

Carl Frampton with Shane McGuigan after defeating Santa Cruz
Carl Frampton with Shane McGuigan after defeating Santa Cruz

The man from Tiger's Bay was predatory perfection at times, making a mockery of the pre-fights odds that had him underdog for the first time as a pro. He reduced height and weight advantages in the champion's favour to non-factors.

Frampton is one of the finest fighters our island has ever produced, everything you would want in a great champion. This was the sort of night that ensures that the country and the world now realise as much.

"That's going to be a fight that defines part of my career," said the 29-year-old after becoming the island's second ever two-weight world champion. "I want to be involved in big fights and I've just made history. I'm the only ever Northern Irishman to win world titles in two different weight divisions.

"I've beaten an unbelievable fighter in Santa Cruz, a three-weight world champion, and it was the toughest fight of my career. I could have made it easier on myself. I fought with my heart rather than my head sometimes, but I think people will remember that for a very long time."

Carl Frampton, right, will go down as Ireland's greatest fighter, according to Barry McGuigan
Carl Frampton, right, will go down as Ireland's greatest fighter, according to Barry McGuigan

That they will. This was a classic from the off, a bewitching spectacle that flew by in ferocious flurries and blurring exchanges.

Two or three times afterwards, Frampton referenced fighting with his heart but the head was prominent throughout too.

The Jackal strayed from Shane McGuigan's tactical masterstroke at times but never too far from the blueprint and rarely into real danger. His footwork was a privilege to behold, his switching up of evasiveness and aggression stunting Santa Cruz for long stretches.

It would take ten more rounds of discipline and dynamism - and a late scare in the 11th when Frampton walked into a huge right hand - before victory was confirmed on scorecards of 117-111, 116-112 and 114-114.

But that crushing left with less than a minute left in the second stanza was the fight's defining moment, Santa Cruz staggering back on his heels, only the ropes saving him from being downed for the first time in seven years. He survived that assault but the war was only going to go one way after that.

"I looked at the officials, asking for something," said McGuigan. "I am so proud of Shane and I know my brother in heaven was sitting on my shoulder willing this to happen. He knew how important this was to me and my father is up there too. I was praying to him, to keep Carl out of danger. They will be partying with the angels tonight."

Frampton spent yesterday doing some partying of his own in Manhattan. He's sticking around to spend a week in New York with his family before returning home next week.

Carl Frampton became a two-weight world champion in July
Carl Frampton became a two-weight world champion in July

All roads are now open before Frampton, who is adamant the unprecedented success of this US expedition will not see him permanently relocate here.

"I want to fight here in America but I want to fight at home," said Frampton, as immediate rematch calls were made by both camps and promoter Lou DiBella.

"I want to fight in Belfast at least once a year. I love New York, though, and the East Coast is very appealing to me.

"I love the whole experience of boxing here but I'm a Belfast boy. I don't want my fans having to spend so much money all the time.

"I just want to be involved in big, memorable fights against top-class guys. Real fighters fight - and that's what I want to do. [IBF featherweight champion Lee] Selby's a big name, Santa Cruz is a big name, [WBC champion] Gary Russell Jr is a big name. All these guys are big names - that's what I want."

So many dreams were realised in the raucous Barclays Center. As it finally began to quieten down in the early hours of yesterday morning, Frampton considered his seminal night and realised it's time for new dreams.

"You do when you're a kid - the dream was always to become a world champion and once you do that you start having new dreams," he said.

"I reached my goal of becoming a world champion and then I wanted to become a two-weight world champion. It's just going up and up."

Irish Independent

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