CARL FRAMPTON has come a long way from the small halls and leisure centres he used to box in – but he is not letting the bright lights of Las Vegas get to his head.
This Saturday he tops the bill at the iconic MGM Grand Garden Arena in a rematch with Leo Santa Cruz, who he defeated in a barnstorming 12-rounder last year.
His face is plastered all across the sprawling casino and highlights of his win over Santa Cruz are played on billboards down the strip, but the 29-year-old refuses to lose focus.
“I think people who change, it’s all an act almost,” he said.
“I feel like I’m the same person I was when I turned pro with Barry [McGuigan]. Maybe a little bit more confident, but nothing much has changed. My family wouldn’t allow it to change. I’d be quickly told to catch myself on if I got too big for my boots.”
The likeable Northern Irishman has cut a confident figure so far during fight week as legions of his loyal followers begin to stream into Sin City.
Last year he boxed in two high-profile fights, defeating domestic rival Scott Quigg in February before moving straight into the Santa Cruz fight in New York. Those victories earned him Fighter of the Year honours but, despite the praise, Frampton is not buying into the hype.
Even now, a few days away from a main event in the fight capital of the world, he remains level-headed and calm – and he would likely stay the same should he win again.
“To be honest, I don’t know. I was asked this question a few times and I don’t want to say ‘I don’t care’ because I do care, but it doesn’t really affect me,” he said when asked about getting excited by seeing his name up in the Las Vegas lights.
“I don’t know why. Maybe I’ll reflect on it a little bit more after boxing. I remember I sat down with Paul Gibson straight after the Scott Quigg fight. Atmosphere was incredible, won the fight, and he asked me in a taxi on the way back to the hotel, ‘how are you feeling, you must be buzzing’, and I said something like ‘I don’t know, I feel all right’. I asked him, ‘does that make me a weirdo, does this make me stupid that I don’t feel overly ecstatic about this?’, and he says ‘no, I think it’s in keeping with your personality’.
“So I don’t know, I don’t get carried away with that sort of thing. But it’s obviously a big deal.”
McGuigan describes Frampton as one of the most clinical figures in the game today, a fighter who can remove emotion a situation and focus solely on finding a way to win.
Though Carl concedes he may have let his heart rule his head at times during the first Santa Cruz fight – making for some electric exchanges – he is not getting carried away this time around.
However, he is concious of the lengths fans have gone to make the trip to Vegas in support of him.
“I get hyped up before the fight and this man beside me [McGuigan] 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 and everything else,” he said.
“And he mentioned to me recently, and I never really thought about it like this, but we’re talking about fighting in Belfast next but Barry says ‘we’re all on the same wavelength and we want to do that, but these people who are coming out here, this is a trip that these guys will remember until their dying days. And you’re making memories for these people’.
“So when you think of it like that, that’s a big thing as well.”
It can be hard to keep grounded when you’re staying in one of the Skylofts of the MGM Grand, though – especially when there’s a group of staff – including a personal butler named Blake – waiting on hand and foot.
“I was in a two bedroom suite but we have just been moved into the Sky Lofts which is pretty nice. It’s lovely. These things are amazing. It’s like a separate hotel in the MGM. There are people standing to attention when you walk past. I don’t know, I feel out of place. But it’s nice.
“It shows you where I have come from, [staying] in Travelodges, Premier Inns, so this is a bit different. It’s surreal.”
Frampton has already achieved way more than he ever thought he could; unifying st super-bantamweight, becoming Northern Ireland’s first ever two weight king and now he is topping a bill in Vegas. You could say he’s living the dream, though he admits that he didn’t even concuct such a scenario in his wildest imaginations.
There is, however, one goal he dreams of accomplishing before he hangs the gloves up for good – fighting at Windsor Park in Belfast.
He said: “That’s what I would want more than anything. This is 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, the national stadium, as the Crues fans call it now, if I retire and I’ve defended my world title once at Windsor Park, I’ll be a very happy man.”
When probed on how he views his standing in the sport, he feels he is on the fringes of the pound-for-pound top 10, and that another win over Santa Cruz will firmly put him in there.
He is one of the top names in arguably the most talent-laden division in boxing, and with a plan to have a few more years in the sport before retiring, he only wants big fights from here on in.
“We’re all evenly matched when you look through the division – Gary Russell, Santa Cruz, Mares, Cuellar, Valdez, Selby as well. It’s a stacked division. They are big fights to be made and I’m happy to fight any of them.
“I’d like to unify the division like I did at super-bantamweight, win another title, and then potentially move up.
“But for the rest of my career, I want big fights only. That’s no disrespect to any guys. I want to be involved in fights that people will remember.”