THE welcome home was extraordinary. A deafening SSE Arena greeted Carl Frampton for his first fight in Belfast since 2015.
Frampton is rebuilding after losing his WBA featherweight title in a January rematch with Leo Santa Cruz. He was taking on a Horacio Garcia, a gym-mate of Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez, who took a ringside seat to support his countryman in this scheduled 10 rounder.
Even Canelo could not help Garcia from afar. Frampton took control from start, boxing masterfully. He darted in with lead left hook. He landed belting combinations, slamming in a straight left after a heavy right.
The Mexico was stunned by Frampton and the raucous crowd that backed him. But in the fourth round Garcia enjoyed success, striking Frampton’s body with a two-fisted assault as the Belfast man stood on ropes. Garcia continued to work forward in the next round, keeping himself in the fight.
Frampton picked up a small cut but was unfazed. But Garcia was effective when Frampton held his ground to exchange fire. Before the end of the sixth round Carl slammed in a huge right hand, but the Mexican took it well.
In the seventh round Frampton lost his footing as Garcia swept a left hand across. It looked like a slip but referee Victor Loughlin took up the count for a knockdown.
The hometown hero went forward to prove a point in the eighth round, whipping cruel left hooks to Garcia’s body. The Mexican found space to score with cracking right uppercuts.
He harried Frampton in the ninth round, continuing to grow into the fight. Carl placed left hooks and threw his right over the top.
But the tension going into the last round was palpable.
Frampton came up from an exchange with a hefty left hook. But he couldn’t force Garcia to take a backwards step. The Mexican came on ferociously, only for Frampton to unearth a heavy combination of his own. The hometown fighter had to show his skill and fighting heart as he dug in in the 10th and last round.
It was a close fight, with the judges perhaps generous. Frampton won unanimously, 98-93 for Steve Gray, 97-93 for Phil Edwards and 96-93 for Dave Parris.
Jamie Conlan was a brave challenger but IBF super-flyweight world champion Jerwin Ancajas overwhelmed him over the course of six rounds. He was cut early on and forced to take a knee. Ancajas hurt him badly with body shots, putting him down multiple times until the referee waved it off in the sixth.
Zolani Tete knocked out Sibonsio Gonya in the first round to defend his WBO bantamweight title.
Two-time Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes halted Eliecer Quezada in six rounds. Jono Carroll also won by stoppage, halting Humberto de Santiago in just three round.