Eamon Carr: Conquering the US is the next step in the evolution of Carl 'The Jackal' Frampton
Published 11/07/2015 | 17:42
The golden rule of sport is simple. You play what's in front of you.
While a boxer should focus on his next opponent, it's different for the manager.
Carl Frampton turned professional in 2009. He was Irish national featherweight champion and was described as "outstanding" by head coach Billy Walsh who believed he had what it took to become an Olympian.
Frampton decided to make his professional journey with Barry McGuigan as his manager and mentor. It was to be a career-defining decision for both men. But both had belief.
Three fights into Frampton's pro career, McGuigan had the confirmation he needed that his protege would become a world champion in the toughest sport.
Two years later, with ten wins to his credit, Frampton won the Commonwealth title. Afterwards McGuigan told me, "You haven't seen what this kid can do. People say I'm talking through my backside but he's the best kid I've seen in the division in thirty years. He can fight off the back foot. He's got great counter-punching skills. He can go forward. There are little incremental improvements to be made as he moves up the rankings. He has natural intelligence in the ring."
In any business, you expect a promoter to hype up his client. But, in a business where rash statements can be exposed by a single punch, McGuigan's enthusiasm shone with the bright zeal of a convert. "He's a wonderful young man," he'd insist. "He's very special. When the fans get to know him, they'll come out in the hundreds of thousands."
While Frampton took each fight as it came. McGuigan always had an eye on the biggest prize. America.
The way he saw it, the Belfast boxer had everything necessary to become a superstar.
He had the ability, talent, courage and intelligence that would serve him well in the ring. Added to that, he had a charismatic personality, Irish charm and natural wit. All that Barry had to do was guide Frampton through the obstacle course of the pro game. Easier said than done.
But blow by blow, round by round, fight by fight, Frampton, aka The Jackal, gained the experience needed and gradually boxed his way to the top table.
Following a few defences of his Commonwealth title, he stepped up to win the IBF Inter-Continental belt. The European title was next. Eventually he secured the IBF world super bantamweight title. Along the way he defeated many star names including Raul Hirales, Steve Molitor, Kiko Martinez, Jeremy Parodi, Hugo Fidel Cazares and Chris Avalos.
When arrangements with Barry Hearn's Matchroom and Sky Sports didn't suit, McGuigan slipped sideways and, matching Frampton's ring craft with quicksilver boardroom skills, hooked up with Frank Warren's Box Nation. By then Frampton had proved right McGuigan's predictions that he would become a box-office draw.
They built a special open-air arena for him in the Titanic dockyard that held sixteen thousand noisy fans.
In an ill-judged attempt to force Frampton to fight his client Scott Quigg, promoter Eddie Hearn went public with a €2.1 million offer (£1.5m). Many boxing punters thought The Jackal was either daft, cowardly or both not to take the option. But McGuigan had long been saying that Quigg wasn't a comparable box-office draw. The ruthless business reality dictated that Frampton should have been earning the biggest share of the take.
As Hearn sat back and waited for McGuigan to come knocking, we received word that the Clones Cyclone had brought a new adviser into the Frampton camp. Al Haymon.
Most fight fans will know Al's name from his business association with boxing's biggest money-spinner, Floyd Mayweather Jr. But Haymon, a former Harvard boy, had a earlier lucrative career in the music business. Like McGuigan, he knows the ropes. In the highest levels of a sport that's been referred to as "showbusiness with blood", Al's the man to have on your side.
So here we are on the cusp of another significant fight in Frampton's career. So far, so good. He's already successfully defended his world title and is now taking the next step towards the big time.
On Saturday, unbeaten Frampton (20-0, 14 KOs) makes his American debut. He arrived in El Paso on Wednesday ahead of meeting resolute 22-year old Mexican challenger Alejandro Gonzalez Jr (25-1-2, 15 KOs).
The fight will be screen free-to-air live on CBS across America. Here, it will be live on ITV and UTV Ireland. An impressive performance by Frampton would be the ideal introduction to the American public. McGuigan remains as bullish as he has done over the six years of Frampton's climb towards the top of the mountain.
The big fight, the lucrative fights, are in America. For Frampton the golden ticket is now within touching distance.
"Our overall objective is to capture the Irish American audience but on this occasion we want to woo the Mexican audience as well just like GGG (Gennady Golovkin, 33-0) has done," says McGuigan. "The Hispanic community are huge boxing fans. I want them to admire Carl as well and there's no better way to do that than by beating a Mexican fighter. In any case Leo Santa Cruz (WBC champion) is in our sites as is Abner Mares and Gary Russell who are all looked after by Haymon."
McGuigan hasn't lost sight of boxing's first rule. "But our focus is Alejandro Gonzalez Jr., nothing else," he insists. "Carl has to beat him emphatically and make a big impression on the U.S. boxing fans. Then we move on."
Saturday is a crucial day for Frampton. In a scorching hot border town, in front of a hostile partisan crowd, he'll be in a showdown so decisive it could set him firmly on the road to glory. And he's ready.