WHEN Scott Quigg pummeled Kiko Martinez into submission inside two rounds with a ferocious two-fisted attack last July, he roared with pride along with the Manchester crowd once the fight was waved off.
He had just walked through a man his domestic rival Carl Frampton had spent the best part of 21 rounds fighting over the course of two contests – a ninth round stoppage in 2013 followed by a 12 round decision a year and a half later.
It was down as his toughest test on paper and plenty had predicted a long night for the fiercely dedicated Bury man. It was the perfect result ahead of a potential – and perhaps inevitable – meeting with Frampton, against whom he had been measured for years.
However, just as Scott was reveling in the moment, a misinformed whisper in his ear wiped away dreams of a monster payday and the chance to truly prove himself.
“I was in the ring, I’d just knocked Martinez out and someone told me Frampton had been knocked out,” he told Boxing News.
“I thought, ‘no, f****** hell it [the Frampton fight] has gone.’”
5,015 miles away, Frampton had been knocked down – twice – but not out. He was fighting the limited Alejandro Gonzalez Jnr in El Paso, Texas, making his American debut and two flash knockdowns in the opening round sent him to the canvas for the first time in his professional career. His American debut wasn’t going to plan. A collective sharp intake of breath could be heard around the UK as the images displayed on ITV showed an anonymous, gangly Mexican wrecking the prospect of Frampton and Quigg finally meeting.
Back in Manchester, Quigg had left the ring, adrenaline still coursing through him, and was preparing to watch friend and gymmate Anthony Crolla fight Darleys Perez for the WBA world lightweight title, but the dread of having missed out on one of the biggest fights in British boxing was still stuck in his mind.
“It started circling round that he’d just been put down, and then put down again,” Quigg explained.
“Then I was told he went back to his boxing and it looked like he was taking control. I still didn’t know how it ended because I was focused on the Anthony Crolla fight. It was only about an hour after that fight I asked how Frampton did, and obviously he won on points.”
The Ulsterman’s impressive display of composure in Texas saw him run out a clear winner despite the knockdowns – although two point deductions against Gonzalez helped – and provided Quigg with some relief after watching Crolla miss out on a world title after fighting to a highly-disputed draw.
Although Frampton had retained his IBF world title and unbeaten record, the dynamic had shifted. A long-term favourite over Quigg in most people’s eyes over, Carl had suddenly shown some vulnerabilities, while Scott had never looked better.
“With him struggling with Gonzalez and me beating Martinez the way I did, it’s made the fight even bigger. People are split straight down the middle. It’s not going to get any bigger this fight.
“This is the biggest fight out there for me and the biggest fight out there for him. This fight would have lost a lot of appeal if he lost.”
The fight – already a mouthwatering prospect – had become painfully hard to call, making it all the more irresistible but Frampton’s talk of moving up to featherweight were worrying. For a few months there was no news on negotiations, the silence was deafening.
Then, in October, Quigg’s promoter Eddie Hearn started making all the right noises. He was confident it could get done, he even set out a time frame.
On November 2, the announcement came. They were fighting each other. A cringe-worthy contract signing live on Sky Sports confirmed it. Nobody cared about the presenter’s feeble attempts at drama – Scott Quigg and Carl Frampton were actually in the same room signing bits of paper to agree to fight each other on February 27 at the Manchester Arena.
“We’ve wanted the fight for a long time. It’s them that decided to take the fight now. If they’d have gone to America and demolished Gonzalez, they would have gone after Leo Santa Cruz,” Quigg said.
“They went over and nearly had the bubble burst and that was a reality check. All the hype around him, they realised it wasn’t all there so that’s why they came back to us.”
Frampton agrees that his last performance was the main reason the Quigg fight was made, though with a differing argument. He feels Quigg’s team finally accepted the fight after seeing some apparent fragility in him.
It’s more heartening to think the fight is exactly what is says on the tin – two elite world champions squaring off in their primes in a bid for supremacy – rather than just an opportunistic cash-in.
Indeed Quigg refuses to bow to the temptation of dining out on Frampton’s performance against Gonzalez – which, bar the first round, was by no means poor – and is only focused on February 27.
“His last fight means nothing, take everything away from our previous fights. This fight, there’s more pressure. It’s massive – you just have to prepare for this fight.
“I’m not reading too much into his last fight, he wasn’t seriously hurt, they were flash knockdowns.
“I’m under no illusions, he’s the best fighter I will have faced and this is the toughest fight of my career, but it’s the same for him. Kiko Martinez, on paper, was the toughest fight of my career and it ended up looking like it was the easiest fight of my career. But that was because of the preparation I put in.”
While Frampton won his IBF title from Martinez in their second fight, Quigg is yet to beat a reigning world champion in the ring. After defending his ‘regular’ WBA bauble for a few years, he was elevated to full champion status in order for the unification fight with Frampton to go ahead, meaning division leader Guillermo Rigondeaux was unceremoniously stripped of that accolade.
During the three-stop media tour to announce the fight, Frampton – along with plenty of social media users – was quick to question the legitimacy of Quigg’s world title. To further muddy the waters, both the WBA and IBF are enforcing their mandatory rules for the winner, meaning whomever prevails will likely have to give up one of the belts.
Like his adversary, Quigg views them as surplus to requirements.
“The world titles are very minor. All that matters is winning this fight. This fight doesn’t need any belts, but it gives it more spice because it’s a unification fight.
“This is for honour and pride and that’s worth more than these belts that are on the line.”
In exactly two weeks both men will walk out into a cauldron of noise for a career-defining fight. Past performances, world titles and verbal potshots will all be forgotten. Pride, honour and a hell of a lot more will be on the line. It may not draw in as many ‘casual’ fans as Carl Froch v George Groves 2 and neither man may not yet be a crossover star, but it’s a fight fan’s dream. It’s a good thing we didn’t lose it back in July.