CARL FRAMPTON recently turned 29 and this weekend, in Manchester, heads into the biggest fight of his life. The Northern Irishman, we’re told, is at his peak. He’s also eight months older than his manager Barry McGuigan was when he was thumped into retirement in the same city. In May 1989, McGuigan was sliced open by Jim McDonnell in a sad four-round farewell; a contest that proved, beyond any doubt, that the national hero’s best boxing days were behind him.
But McGuigan insists that the end for his beloved protégé is not in sight, that Frampton’s impending showdown with Scott Quigg, a contest of rich appeal, is just the warm-up for a legacy-carving run. McGuigan, now 54, has always wanted the best for his fighter, and has carefully mapped a route towards the superstardom he himself achieved in the 1980s. It was a level of fame so high, that the United Kingdom and Ireland mourned together when he lost his WBA featherweight title in 1986. That defeat, when the rampaging Las Vegas heat colluded with Stevie Cruz to create one of the most shocking sporting tales of the decade, still riles McGuigan.
“Let’s just say I had a magic wand and called off Vegas [gruelling outdoor loss to Cruz], I would have held the title for another couple of years,” McGuigan tells Boxing News today. “I truly believe I could have won the [world] super-featherweight title and then my career would have been different. I would have lasted considerably longer, I wouldn’t have had any regrets.
“But Frampton is different to me. People keep making comparisons but every facet of his personality is different to mine, his physicality, the way he fights. I genuinely believe he has another six fights in him. Really big fights. He’s now in position. He’s got to beat Quigg and pitch forward. And my job is to look strategically where we go from here. The reality is, I believe he wins [against Quigg], I believe he wins impressively, and then we have at least four-to-six mega-fights and then bow out after that.”
Those mega-fights include a Quigg sequel (if this weekend sets the right scene), Leo Santa Cruz, Nonito Donaire and Vasyl Lomachenko. McGuigan sees no point in chasing the perceived leader of the super-bantamweight division, Guillermo Rigondeaux. While that elastic and spiteful Cuban is Frampton’s first choice, McGuigan insists he’ll strongly advise against it. And not because he feels the Belfast man cannot win, but because he believes there is little money to be made in a risky fight. And he’s probably right. Rigondeaux’s brilliant yet defensive style has struggled to seduce audiences, or convince promoters. Besides vast credibility among the hardcore, and an elegant and difficult to trump set of skills, the Cuban brings little to the bargaining table.
“There has to be a reason to fight a guy that just runs away all the time,” McGuigan says of Rigondeaux. “He’ll say he’ll come and fight and blah, blah, blah, but he’d just run away again because that’s what he does.”
Should Frampton defeat Quigg he will add the WBA super-bantamweight title to the IBF strap he already owns. The WBA, perhaps the most perplexing of all sanctioning bodies, stripped Rigondeaux last year for inactivity just weeks before he fought in Las Vegas. By way of compensation for their cruel act, the WBA demand that the Frampton-Quigg victor must meet Rigondeaux, provided he defeats Jazza Dickens in Liverpool on March 12.
But they’ve come too far, McGuigan believes, to risk it all to keep the WBA happy. Titles do not pay the bills, after all. The plan has always been to make Frampton a rich man, create a revered career, and live happily ever after.
“I knew from the start how special he was, and a lot of people were telling me I was wrong,” McGuigan reflects. “I knew what he was capable of because I watch him every day in the gym and some of the stuff he does is extraordinary.”
Frampton looked far from extraordinary during the opening three minutes of his most recent outing. Decked twice in the first round by Alejandro Gonzalez Jnr, Frampton’s trainer (and Barry’s son) Shane McGuigan was called into action early. The fighter did well to boss most of the remaining 11 rounds, and win the bout. But it was certainly an unexpected blip.
“Nothing has changed since America, and if anything, it has got better,” McGuigan insists. The journey is very much a family affair, and Barry credits his sons with sharing his faith in Frampton, and their part in making this extavaganza with Quigg. While Shane sharpened the fighting man, brothers Jake and Blain negotiated with Matchroom – something Barry has struggled with in the past.
“There’s a lot of hard work been done by [my sons] Shane, Blain, and Jake in all of the negotiation and I’m glad that I’ve been a good father to them and helped them,” McGuigan says of his boys. “They grew up with a good knowledge of boxing, and an appreciation of the game even when they were doing other things. I’m very proud of the fact we’re carving a little niche for ourselves and we’ve a long way to go. We do things in a very unique way in that I’m the mentor and the manager, Jake and Blane are the promoters, and Shane is the coach. We don’t even have to speak to each other, we have an understanding of how things should work.”
It’s clear that defeat for Frampton – as likely an outcome as any – would deliver a hammer blow to not only the fighter, but the McGuigan family who are entrenched in the super-bantamweight’s fortunes. But perhaps Barry, who has invested so much of his time to get to this point, will feel it the most.
“My role is encouraging these kids, getting the best out of them, and looking over Shane’s shoulder and watching him train, and he’s extraordinarily good at that. He’s far, far better than me and I don’t step on his toes. He has a much better demeanour than me, and is very good at getting the best out of them.”
To stave off another Manchester disaster, Team Frampton will have to get the best out of each other.