IF you were to observe Carl Frampton in Las Vegas this week, you would think he was made for occasions like this.
The unbeaten Northern Irishman has taken every part of the bizarre and wondrous world Las Vegas encaptulates in his stride as he prepares to defend his WBA featherweight title against Leo Santa Cruz at the MGM Grand on Saturday night.
From staying in an MGM SkyLoft to undertaking countless media obligations, Frampton has been a picture of quiet confidence, and even admitted he is not getting over excited about topping a bill in Las Vegas.
However, he was not always that way. A standout amateur who won numerous titles, Frampton caught the eye of Irish boxing legend Barry McGuigan back in 2007.
“I remember when I first met him, he was just a wee lad who would barely talk,” McGuigan tells Boxing News from his room in the MGM Grand.
“I remember he was staying with me down the house and it was a day when something big or political had happened in boxing and all day I was on the phone speaking to the radio or speaking to the papers and he turned to Sandra [Barry’s wife] and said ‘I don’t know how he does that, I could never do that.’ Now listen to him.
“So it was November 2007 the first time I saw him and I remember saying ‘f***ing hell, this kid is great.’ Shane [Barry’s son, and now Frampton’s trainer] boxed with him in the Ulster seniors and he went on the win the Irish seniors. Then I approached him but Billy McKee, his amateur coach, hates professional boxing. Carl told me he really wanted to turn over and I said ‘this is not the game for you, you need to turn over with me.’
“Billy knew right away that I was the right one to go with. We look back and we look at the journey, it’s been monumental.”
Quick-witted, sharp and realistic about his standing in the sport, Frampton is an engaging conversationalist and after his emphatic win over Santa Cruz in New York last year, America is embracing him.
Despite the numerous awards he received last year and the three world titles he’s claimed over two weight classes, Frampton would sooner mock himself than boast about his accomplishments. A big part of that is down to McKee, Frampton’s family and the tight-knit community he grew up in Tiger’s Bay in Belfast.
McGuigan has also played his part in helping mould Frampton. Millions tuned in to watch Barry win the WBA featherweight title against Eusebio Pedroza in 1985 – he was the people’s champion. Over the years, he’s imparted wisdom onto Carl and now, with the Cyclones Promotion company he runs with his sons, there is a clear ideology in mind with regards to who they work with.
“We want role models. Hugely talented guys, if they’re loudmouths and morons, I don’t want anything to do with them because we have a methodology, not just about how we train fighters but a moralistic standard that we accept. Bumptiousness and conceit and loudmouth behaviour is not something we enjoy and we won’t have it,” he said.
“The kids have to be confident but we want it to be burgeoning confidence. It’s impossible to be a fighter without confidence, and a lot of them get into the fight game to get confidence because a lot of them are down beaten and from families with no money. That’s where your typical fighter comes from, so they use boxing to get confidence and we don’t want to take that away from them, but we don’t want arrogance. I can’t stand it, it’s one of my pet hates. It’s just unnecessary, the world is full of it but humility wins every single time.”
Frampton’s entire professional career has been guided by the McGuigans and they’ve had their fair share of detractors – and most likely still do. Carl served a stint under promoter Eddie Hearn before moving to Frank Warren but now, he is in the enviable position of being able to work with virtually any promoter on the planet.
Certain moves and decisions throughout his career were questioned, and Barry’s proclamations of his belief that his man would become one of the greatest Irish fighters of all time were shot down as premature and deluded.
“It’s been a pretty phenomenal year, and you think about where we came from, and the various comments people made when I said ‘this kid’s gonna be one of the best Irish fighters of all time.’ A certain number of people laughed at me and I said ‘ok fine, just watch’ because I knew what his talent was like, I could see him in the gym every day, I could see what he was doing to really skilful, world class guys who’re bigger than him,” he said.
“I’m not interested in going ‘nanana told you so,’ I don’t care about that. What I’m interested in is winning, making kids successful, making them realise their potential. That’s what I’m in this game to do.”
Eyebrows were also raised when Frampton brought in Shane as his head trainer a few years ago. With a ground in strength and conditioning work, Shane had limited experience in leading a corner – though had been involved in Carl’s for some time.
Shane was named the Boxing News Trainer of the Year in 2016 and his success with Frampton has attracted the likes of George Groves and David Haye.
“It has been great. We’ve gone under the radar a lot in the past. Obviously not a Sky fighter, not a Matchroom fighter. We’ve one it the hard way in that sense, we went off, did our own little thing and we’ve prevailed,” Shane explains to BN.
“It’s great, it’s really nice, but I think we’re just scratching the surface. There’s competition out there from every angle, ITV for example, and it’s good. It’s competition for us, for Eddie, for Frank, it’s good. What’s good is that there’s a big hub of boxing, loads of hungry fighters, a great amateur system and for Carl to be sitting at the top is nice. It’s really nice.”
They are an incredibly close group and as Barry discusses Carl’s journey, he swells with pride. He even stops the interview at times to show me a picture from when he first met a baby-faced Frampton and another of the emotional night he won his first world title in Belfast in 2014.
“55 countries all over the world,” he says, smiling to himself as he briefly reminisces about where the win over Kiko Martinez was broadcast.
Now, they are preparing for yet another huge event. Frampton is leading the British charge in the States having joined forces with the influential Al Haymon after he became world champion.
Having been the underdog first time around, Frampton is tipped to repeat the trick this weekend but it’s still a tough, tough task for the Ulsterman. Should he win, his profile will continue to soar and huge fights would become a reality.
“People have spoken about last year and how it’ll be the pinnacle [of Frampton’s career] but I genuinely believe he can replicate that and better it, it just depends who he’s up against,” Shane said.
“Obviously there’s this fight, we’re looking at Selby, that’s a good fight. I think he beats Selby, it’s a hard fight, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know how much he’s been tested at world level and Carl’s had those hard fights, those pressure fights. Once we get the job done on Saturday night we can sit and choose.
“Abner Mares is out there, he’s a big name, and entertaining fighter. Going down the Oscar Valdez route, that could be a tough one because he’s with Top Rank and HBO.”
Already, Carl is firmly in the conversation about Ireland’s greatest ever fighters. From here on in, they only want him in big, hard fights against elite opposition and there’s a rough time limit on his punching career.
“Carl has probably got another nine fights in him, maybe not that,” Barry said.
“Maybe half a dozen to nine fights. I want him to get out with his faculties intact and with enough money in the bank so he can enjoy the rest of his life, and I want to do that with Josh Taylor and all the boys.
“I always said he could be the greatest. Obviously he’s got to keep winning and I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth because he’s got a very tough fight on Saturday, but he can become one of the best – if not the best – fighter Ireland has ever produced. Touch wood everything goes well on Saturday, and then I’ve got to pick the right fights, the right guys that will involve him in fights that people will remember for a long time.
“It’s great to be in Las Vegas, in all its splendour, but that comes and goes. What stays are memories.”