As an Irishman with a passable singing voice and an appreciation of the more legitimate musical accomplishments of his compatriot Van Morrison, Barry McGuigan would recognise in Mighty Like A Rose, an early Them classic, the shape that is forming around the career of Carl Frampton.
The kid from Tiger’s Bay is growing with all the symmetry of the garden’s loveliest flower – perhaps not an image a fighting man would feel altogether comfortable with, but there it is. Frampton’s comprehensive points win over Scott Quigg in Manchester on Saturday night, gathering up the Bury man’s WBA belt to go with his own IBF title at super-bantamweight, puts him on a path to potential greatness.
McGuigan, a fine world champion at featherweight, went so far as to say Frampton would eventually be regarded as “the best Irish fighter of all time”. The young boxer smiled at the thought.
He at least has the chance to prove it, and his next test could be at his promoter’s old weight, against the estimable Léo “El Terremoto” Santa Cruz, who kept his WBA nine-stone title in Anaheim, California, on Saturday night when he drove a concluding nail into the career of Kiko Martínez (a loser to both Frampton and Quigg in the past), knocking him down twice in the first round, and finishing him off in the fifth.
“I’m happy to have a rematch if the public demand it,” Frampton said, “but I’d rather move on to bigger and better things now. I couldn’t believe what one of the judges gave it [Levi Martínez had it 115-113 for Quigg, against 116-112 for Frampton by Carlos Sucre and Dave Parris]. I thought I won the first seven rounds comfortably.” He did, regardless of what Martínez and one or two ringside experts, including the former world champions Carl Froch and Jim Watt, thought. (Both, unbelievably, scored it a draw).
McGuigan would like Frampton to fight Santa Cruz ahead of the Cuban master Guillermo Rigondeaux, who gives Liverpool’s Jazza Dickens a shot at unlikely glory at the Echo Arena on 12 March. Ideally Frampton-Santa Cruz – an easy fight to make – would be over two legs, in Belfast then at Madison Square Garden. Victory would properly seal the Irishman’s reputation in the United States.
Quigg, meanwhile, has to lick his bruises. His promoter, Eddie Hearn, produced an X-ray after the fight to confirm he had a hairline jaw fracture, the result of a cracking Frampton uppercut towards the end of the fourth round.
If Quigg fought eight rounds with a throbbing mandible, he left town with a broken heart. He was inconsolable in his dressing room afterwards and, at an emotional press conference in the small hours, more than once was close to tears. “This is a sham,” he said of his brave face. “It’s killing me inside.”
Even Frampton felt sorry for him, and wished him all the best. The greater disappointment resided in the paid-for seats and among a large chunk of fans in a quarter of a million or so homes who had shelled out £16.95 to watch it on Sky Sports. They will not pony up for a rematch – “no question”, to quote Hearn in another context. That is how he thought the fight would end in his fighter’s favour by the sixth round. On the night, Quigg threw away all of those rounds. Only a rousing finish made it close.
Later, he accepted the verdict more readily than did Hearn or his trainer, Joe Gallagher, who during the bout informed Quigg he was probably 6-1 down. Afterwards, fighter and trainer reckoned they were all square after four. But it was their strategy of standing off and waiting for a moment to pounce that gifted Frampton an unassailable lead.
Many of the 20,000 fans – about half of them from Belfast – who lent the occasion more noise than it ultimately deserved, felt short-changed. On social media message boards, the verdict was scathing. Armchair pundits thought it a waste of their pay-per-view outlay, and very few disagreed with the verdict.
As Frampton said: “I’m not going to get daft. I’m not going to get involved in fights when I don’t have to. If I can keep it nice and simple and win a fight with my jab, I’m going to continue to do that.”
Fans want a war. Fighters want a win. And Frampton, as cagey a fighter as these islands have seen in a very long time, is growing Mighty Like A Rose.
“I didn’t really understand his tactics, to be honest,” Frampton said. “He was giving me rounds and I was having to do very little. It seemed pretty boring to me. Every single time I nailed him, I heard Shane [McGuigan, his trainer] in the corner shouting, ‘Don’t get greedy,’ because I know he can punch back well off a block. It opened up a wee bit near the end, and he won a few rounds, but I felt comfortable, and I hurt him with body shots. He can punch hard, but he never hurt me to the body.”
Informed that Quigg had described his effort as “driving a car with the handbrake on”, McGuigan replied: “We sensed that. Because he was loading up, his feet were terrible tonight. That’s what won Carl the fight, adjustments all the time, stepping in, stepping out. As soon as he went to load up, Carl stepped in, caught him with two or three shots and moved. He made easy work of it.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010