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Dublin: 8 °C Sunday 31 May, 2020
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From North Belfast to NYC: Carl Frampton's long road to the top

The Belfast boxer has won Irish amateur, Celtic, Commonwealth and world titles – but Saturday night is his biggest test to date.

Frampton with trainer Shane McGuigan ahead of his fight against Santa Cruz on Saturday night.
Frampton with trainer Shane McGuigan ahead of his fight against Santa Cruz on Saturday night.
Image: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

EARLIER THIS WEEK, Carl Frampton came face to face with Leo Santa Cruz on the observation deck of New York’s Empire State building as they initiated a week of festivities leading up to the fight this weekend.

Santa Cruz, the featherweight champion, and Frampton, the challenger with his sights on a second world title in a second weight class. Both unbeaten; both dangerous.

The 29-year-old’s short journey up to the 86th floor of the Big Apple’s iconic landmark was most likely a straightforward one.

His career, on the other hand, has followed a long path with no shortage of hurdles since he first picked up a pair of boxing gloves in Belfast.

Fighting out of the Midland Boxing Club in Tiger’s Bay, Frampton began to develop as quite a promising young prospect.

Keen observers could see the Belfast man’s talent from early on as he returned home from the 2003 European Schoolboy Championships in Rome with a silver medal while representing Ireland.

Two years later, 18-year-old Frampton claimed the Irish senior flyweight title at the 2005 Irish Elite Championships.

Carl Frampton wins his bout with Derek Thorpe  18/3/2005 Carl Frampton won his first Irish title against Derek Thorpe at the 2005 Irish Elite Championships. Source: INPHO

The Belfast youngster continued to grow over the next few years and in 2007, he won a silver medal at the EU amateur boxing championships in the heavier featherweight division.

Back at the Irish Elite Championships in 2009, Frampton defeated current Rio Olympian David Oliver Joyce, who was aiming for his fifth successive senior title, before deciding to turn professional.

Impressed by his amateur career, Barry McGuigan immediately sought to manage the Irish champion, noticing his future potential to become a world champion.

He won his first professional bout as a featherweight in Liverpool but he dropped down to bantamweight, where he has won all of his titles since, soon after.

His future promise was immediately evident and less than a year after turning professional, “The Jackal” was awarded the Prospect of the Year accolade at the Irish National Boxing Awards.

The first title shot of Frampton’s career came 18 months after his professional debut as he fought Gavin Reid for the Celtic super-bantamweight title. The fight didn’t last long as a flurry of punches from the North Belfast boxer forced the referee to stop the fight in the second round.

Carl Frampton celebrates his victory over Gavin Reid Frampton celebrates his win over Gavin Reid at the Ulster Hall in Belfast. Source: ©Russell Pritchard/Presseye

A year later, the Northern Ireland man was fighting for the vacant Commonwealth title against Australian Mark Quon in his first outing at the Odyssey Arena. The bantamweight prospect was now quickly making a name for himself and another dominant performance saw the fight stopped in the fourth round.

From that moment on, Frampton’s eyes have been focused on the ultimate prize, and his opportunity finally came in September 2014.

His support had grown considerably and the Odyssey Arena was no longer capable of dealing with his ever-increasing fanbase.

A temporary setup was assembled at the Titanic Quarter to cater for the thousands of fans wanting to catch a glimpse of Belfast’s new golden boy.

Over 16,000 people filed into the arena to watch the fight against Kiko Martinez for the world title creating a spine-tingling atmosphere by the River Lagan.

That very name may have brought back some uneasy memories for Irish boxing fans as the Spaniard knocked out Bernard Dunne back in 2007. Even though Frampton had previously beaten the Spaniard for the European super bantamweight title in 2013, this was a bigger stage and Martinez was now the world champion.

The pressure and expectation of the city didn’t affect the boxer, now trained by McGuigan’s son Shane, and he claimed the IBF world super bantamweight belt on a famous night for the sport.

Carl Frampton celebrates winning Carl Frampton is lifted aloft by his trainer Shane McGuigan after claiming the IBF super bantamweight belt against Kiko Martinez. Source: Presseye/Kelvin Boyes/INPHO

Frampton went on to successfully defend his title against Chris Avalos and Alejandro Gonzalez Jr, although his win against the latter was anything but impressive.

For years, anticipation of a fight between Frampton and England’s Scott Quigg had been rising. Both of them now held world titles and, with Frampton anxious to make a move up to featherweight, it was a prime time for the fight to happen.

After a tense buildup with verbal barbs predictably launched in both directions, Frampton won a dull encounter by split decision.

As expected, Frampton has stepped up to featherweight since and, after that false start against Gonzalez, he take a second shot at cracking into the lucrative US market across the Atlantic.

Carl Frampton Carl Frampton preparing for his fight on Saturday night at Church Street Boxing Club in New York. Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

For the first time in his professional career, he is entering the ring as underdog.

Santa Cruz holds the same title Barry McGuigan won back in 1985 and he will undoubtedly be the toughest test Frampton has faced to date.

His statistics rank him among the best in the world and Frampton will need a big improvement on recent performances if he is to land his biggest success to date.

An upset on Saturday night is not impossible but it would certainly shake up the professional boxing landscape.

With a potential to attract supporters from the expansive Irish population in America, and boundless confidence to boot, a win in New York could claim more for the Northern Ireland man than just a resplendent gold belt.

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