Joe Callaghan reports from Las Vegas
HE HAD RORY McIlroy, Frank Lampard and Paul McGinley in his extended corner for his finest hour in Brooklyn last summer. But in fresh terrain this week, Carl Frampton is keeping an ear out for advice from the sportsman who knows how to stage a Las Vegas takeover better than most.
The WBA featherweight champion defends his cherished strap against Leo Santa Cruz at the MGM Grand on Saturday night, a venue that knows its way around an Irish influx after the past two years — thanks, in large part, to the crown prince of combat sports.
While he may have comprehensively seen off Frampton for Ireland’s blue riband end-of-year sports award, it turns out Conor McGregor is a major fan of his fellow two-weight world champion. The Jackal revealed that the UFC star has been in touch to show his support as the Belfast native took his career to new heights in recent years.
For combat sports [we're] probably [the biggest two] but I feel that McGregor stands alone,” said Frampton in Las Vegas on Wednesday night when asked to weigh up his fellow fighting figurehead. “He’s a huge name all over the world. He’s a massive star, someone who I admire a lot. I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing and the fan base I have.
“We’re completely different characters. McGregor is doing his thing. But fair play to him. He seems to be raking it in and why not? I really like him. I haven’t met him yet. I’m still looking to meet him.
“He’s never been to a fight of mine. But he’s watched me a few times, he’s sent me a few video messages privately just to wish me luck in fights. He’s a good guy. He has this persona, but he’s playing the game and fair play to him.”
While the Notorious one may have controversially taken RTÉ recognition for his efforts over the past 12 months, Frampton has been busying himself racking up much more established prize-fighting honours, with his exploits in 2016 seeing him named Fighter of the Year by all and sundry.
As he prepares for a tantalising first defence of his featherweight crown, the former unified bantamweight king insists he can make 2017 even better.
Potentially this could be a bigger year,” insisted the 29-year-old, just the island’s second two-weight boxing world champion. “I’m kicking off the year with a huge fight against Leo and it’s giving me the chance, early in the year, to squeeze another two fights in. [I could] have [three] instead of two. If I remain undefeated and beat guys like Leo and [rumoured next opponent, Lee] Selby again, and have three fights, it’s going to be a pretty great year again.”
A first headline act in the fighting capital of the world may have daunted some comers, but Frampton is a champion who has little time for being fazed. As the noise levels have cranked up on the strip, he has cut a supremely confident figure. It doesn’t hurt that he looks to be in incredible shape.
It’s my second fight as a featherweight so I’m just getting used to the weight now. I’m more relaxed, I’m confident,” added Frampton, with that booming confidence shared by coach Shane McGuigan and manager Barry ahead of the second instalment at the Garden Arena. “I think going into this fight, I have the psychological edge. I’ve already beaten this guy, I’ve hurt him as well. So psychologically I think I have the upper hand.
“If you look at some of the stuff that has been said about the first fight I want to prove that it wasn’t a fluke, I want to prove that I’m a better fighter. I want to prove that all these awards I picked up at the end of the year are justified.”
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