IT was almost
Carl Frampton could scarcely have dreamed it better. He raised the IBF super-bantamweight world title in an arena built specially for him in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, a mile away from his Tiger’s Bay home. The temporary stadium heaved with 16,000 fevered supporters sharing that moment of triumph.
But boxing fables are hard earned. You could trace in the bruises on his face, the swelling in his lip or the stitches knotting together a cut over his right eye the tale of 12 rounds battling Kiko Martinez for the Spaniard’s world crown.
“I’ve never respected a fighter more in my life,” Frampton said. “My head’s still a bit sore, my hands are sore. Tough fight but I’m world champion now. It’s been a long time coming so I’m very proud.”
He knows his rival well. Early in 2013 he relieved Martinez of the European title. Frampton won by stoppage then, but only after Kiko had pressed him hard. The Spaniard however returned from that stronger, winning the world crown as he went on streak of knockout victories. But this rematch was a different fight to their first encounter.
Frampton seized control from the beginning. Martinez was subdued initially, perhaps chastened by his previous experience with the Belfast man or from having to walk through the seething mass of fans and their deafening noise to reach the ring. Frampton’s right struck him and Carl stepped in with another backhand catching Kiko in close. More energetic, Martinez forced himself forward in the second round, screwing a hard left hook into his body. But Carl’s jab flickered out between them, thwarting the Spaniard’s attempts to engage. Martinez tried to work under it, aiming a straight left at Frampton’s stomach. Frampton planted a firm right hook on him and finished the round with a crisp one-two combination.
Martinez’s left hook collided with Frampton’s glove, the right hand shielding his jaw. Carl drove a three-punch combination straight through and, as Kiko came on, Frampton kept his eyes peeled for the left, to slip a crisp countering right over it. A heavy right hook pushed Martinez aside but Frampton did not charge after him. He kept composed, started to move off as the Spaniard came on. There wasn’t a vast amount to separate them but Frampton was taking these early rounds. He tightened his control in the fourth. Holding his left out to maintain space between them he thumped his cross in again. His footwork carried him away before Kiko could find a response. Carl cracked off head shots, picking his moments to stand his ground and fight. Then Martinez could swing back furiously, hacking around a right hook as Frampton stepped into a clinch.
When Frampton lost his footing in the fifth round the Spaniard slugged a spiteful shot at him on the floor. Referee Steve Gray told him off but the Belfast man administered a more emphatic form of punishment. As Martinez powered forward, Carl’s right uppercut scraped past, just short, a left hook flew over too high but Frampton thumped his right straight down the middle, over Kiko’s left arm into the target, flinging him off his feet to score a knockdown.
The roar of the crowd swelled as the fighters stepped out for the sixth and Carl held his right out, probing for an opening with that hand too. He threw the cross, landing a hard straight left after it. The right shot out again and he whipped his left hook after it.
“My jab was working well. We had a plan to sort of plant my feet a bit more in the second half of the fight, which I did,” Frampton said. “I was hitting him with the jab and I was feeling my hand hurting but I knew it was working so I just said, ‘Grit it out, keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll win.’”
Kiko languished far behind on the scoreboard, he had, somehow, to find a way to change the shape of the fight. He upped the ferocity of his assault, clipping Frampton with a left hook. He stayed on Carl, working, piling in behind another big lead hook. At last he had Frampton on the ropes and Martinez winged in hooks before Frampton tied him up. In the seventh and eighth rounds Martinez had managed to stem the tide flowing against him. But in the ninth Frampton was back moving from side to side. Kiko could not pin him down and sucked up power shot after power shot. The Spaniard was not a match for Carl’s skill but his resilience on this occasion was extraordinary to see.
“He hit me with some good shots. I think again I’ve proved I’ve got a very good chin. I don’t want to be proving it that much but I proved it tonight,” Frampton declared.
Into the 10th round Martinez kept up a good volume of work, although the clean, incisive blows still came from Frampton. But Kiko took those shots, firm on his feet still and marched on. He drilled Carl with a hefty right hook. In the 11th Frampton finally had Martinez rocking again, slamming in shots with either hand as he unloaded a sustained combination.
“Then I thought, ‘I’ve got a couple of rounds to go here, don’t be getting stupid, just do what you’ve been doing the whole fight,’” Carl noted.
Frampton had to see out the last round to secure that title. At first he moved off behind the jab. But the urge to end it in style was hard to resist. He opened up on Martinez and trapped the Spaniard beneath that barrage, firing in the left and the right. Even then he didn’t break Kiko. Martinez bombed back at him. Frampton had to tuck up beneath the pressure but at the sound of the bell broke out celebrating, with his arms high in the air. There could be only one winner. The judges confirmed it, both Mike Fitzgerald and Dennis Nelson scored 119-108, Marcus McDonnell 118-111.
It was a special night. A bitterly cold wind swept in from the sea but the crowd’s warmth for their new champion was palpable. Like his mentor and manager Barry McGuigan before him, support for Frampton stretches across the troubled divisions of Northern Ireland’s recent history.
Though she won’t appreciate her father’s significance yet, Carl’s daughter, Carla was ringside for the first time. Despite the furious struggle in the ring and the crowd’s exultant roar at the decision, the three-year-old had found it all peaceful enough to fall fast asleep.
This could just be the beginning of the fairytale for Frampton. A crowning performance in the fight, the IBF title around his waist and fanatical support behind him, his future is alive with possibility.
“Abner Mares says he would like to fight me now, Leo Santa Cruz [the WBC champion], obviously [Scott] Quigg is the fight that I want, but we’ve loads of options. Every fight from here on in is huge,” Carl said.
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