Saturday 23 September 2017

Frampton: Sport brings us together

Frampton aches to fight back in Northern Ireland, where he has fought 10 times, but not since 2015. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Frampton aches to fight back in Northern Ireland, where he has fought 10 times, but not since 2015. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Gareth A Davies

Carl Frampton is drawing inspiration from the sporting renaissance in Northern Ireland as the unbeaten fighter prepares to meet dangerous Mexican Leo Santa Cruz in a high-profile rematch in Las Vegas on Saturday.

The Ulsterman defends the World Boxing Association featherweight crown at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and a second victory over Santa Cruz, after Frampton's widely heralded triumph four months ago, could lead to an emotional return to Belfast this summer, potentially against Welshman Lee Selby, the International Boxing Federation champion, who also defends his title on this card.

"We're all flying at the moment," explained Frampton of Northern Ireland's sporting success. "Since I've been alive, it's been the best in terms of sporting achievements. It's the best football team since I've been alive.

"You've also got Rory McIlroy, on his day easily the best golfer in the world. Jonathan Rea doing his thing on the motorbikes, just like the Dunlops had done before. It's huge. We're all taking inspiration from each other. Sport is the thing that's seeming to bring us all together."

The MGM is expected to hold up to 5,000 of Frampton's fans, turning the venue into a riot of green when the fighters walk to the ring. As Barry McGuigan, the fighter's promoter, explained, the aficionados following Frampton make a huge difference and for many it will be the sporting trip of a lifetime.

"Many of these people have never been to America," he explained. "This is their chance to go and it's because of him. If Carl needs motivation, there's your motivation."

The prospect lifts Frampton. "This is a trip that these guys will remember until their dying days. And you're making memories for these people." That matters to him.

Yet Frampton aches to fight back in Northern Ireland, where he has fought 10 times, but not since 2015.

"The real dream is a stadium fight at home," added the fighter, who is unbeaten in 23 contests. "It's incredible to be here and top the bill at the MGM. I've also done it in New York, I've been on an amazing journey. But to top the bill outdoors at the new Windsor Park, the national stadium . . . if I retire and I've defended my world title once at Windsor Park, I'll be a very happy man."

What stands out about Frampton is his modesty. His name and face adorn The Strip in the city renowned as a Mecca for fight nights and his team have been moved to the Sky Loft suites inhabited by the high rollers and celebrities. He even has a butler, named Blake, which he finds disarming.

Frampton said: "These things are amazing. It's like a separate hotel in the MGM. There are people standing to attention when you walk past. I feel out of place. But it's nice. It makes a change from where I have come from. It's surreal. I don't want to say 'I don't care' because I do care, but it doesn't really affect me. I don't know why. Maybe I'll reflect on it a little bit more after boxing.

"Maybe that makes me a weirdo, but I don't get carried away with that sort of thing. I get hyped up before the fight and Barry is the best man in the world at motivating you before a fight. He'll talk about my family and why I'm doing this. It's a big deal, I know."

Frampton needs that mindset. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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