By Alan Hubbard
Tyson Fury may steal the headlines over here but he won’t steal the show in Belfast. There this Saturday it will be the night of The Jackal.
Windsor Park will be filled and thrilled when Carl Frampton steps into the ring to face the Tasmanian tough guy Luke Jackson. Northern Ireland’s home-brewed hero is Britain’s best supported boxer since Ricky Hatton with a following of genuinely loyal fans who come to see him fight, and not swig lager and sing Sweet Caroline at an ‘event’ like the majority who will cram Wembley when Anthony Joshua is next on show.
Belfast is a city with great boxing tradition, breeding many fighters who have found fame from world flyweight champion Rinty Monaghan through to Frampton, Paddy Barnes and now Michael Conlan via, to name a few, Johnny Caldwell, Freddie Gilroy, Eamonn Magee, Wayne McCullough, Dave McCauley and of course Frampton’s former mentor Barry McGuigan.
Frampton’s huge popularity is understandable. He is an immensely personable and highly articulate bloke and a truly talented boxer.
He is high among my list of favourite fighters and became so, perversely, in defeat when, in Las Vegas last year, he surrendered his prized world featherweight belt and unbeaten record to Leo Santa Cruz, the Mexican with whom he struck up a comradeship after taking the same title from him in New York in the summer of 2016.
It was a bruising, 12 rounds points loss by majority decision, one of the three American judges calling it a draw, the other two giving it by a couple of rounds to Santa Cruz.
It was a good, hard fight, though not quite of the calibre as their original meeting. And most of the rounds were very close.
In similar circumstances many fighters would have thrown a wobbly, screamed blue murder about being robbed and stomped off in a paddy.
But Frampton chose not to squawk in protest. Instead he elected for honesty and humility, such a rarity in sport these days.
Arms wrapped around his Mexican mate he declared unequivocally that the better man had won. There were no complaints from him or the 5,000 Irishmen who had followed him to Vegas as they filtered quietly into the Nevada night.
Frampton’s first tweets after what must have been a devastating blow showed him to be a truly class act and were a lesson in magnanimity and sportsman ship.
“Santa Cruz was clever and he used his reach well…I think he deserved to win,” he said. “Being honest, the better man won on the night. He double bluffed me.”
After such a setback many deposed champions would have hidden away from the spotlight, but Frampton invited all his fans to the Nine Fine Irishmen pub after the fight and paid for drinks all round.
He even later tweeted the man who out-fought him on the night: “A great fighter & even better man. We have to do it again. Congratulations champ.”
Frampton is a little man but emerged a bigger one for his defeat, and the manner in which he accepted it.
Subsequently he has repaired his ring reputation under the promotional stewardship of Frank Warren with comprehensive victories over Horacio Garcia and Nonito Donaire.
Now I have no doubt he will dispose of the undefeated (16-0) but comparatively inexperienced 33-year-old Aussie in defence of his interim WBO featherweight title efficiently and perhaps ruthlessly.
Then he will be ready to move on to either to complete the trilogy in a rubber match with Santa Cruz or, as seems more likely, a domestic dust-up with new IBF champion Josh Warrington, the prospect of which has thousands of lips licking in anticipation in both Belfast and Leeds.
THIS IS A CRACKING CARD, full of fire, and of course Fury.
Frank Warren certainly made a terrific publicity coup when he signed the world’s most idiosyncratic fighter after his near three year absence from the ring.
The garrulous giant knows how to hit the headlines as effectively as he did Wladimir Klitschko to sensationally capture three versions of the world heavyweight title that have since been confiscated from him.
The self-styled Gypsy King, still regarded as the linear champion, will be observed keenly from the Windsor Park ringside by WBC kingpin Deontay Wilder.
No longer bulging around the belly – he tells us he has shed almost ten stones since he began preparing for his much-trumpeted ring renaissance – we can expect to see a different Fury against a more capable opponent than the hapless Albanian whom he jokingly jigged around with for four rounds last time out. He has to take this one seriously as too much is at stake.
Fury now declares that he is a new man, the ‘heavyweight Sugar Ray Leonard.’
Great soundbite, Tyson. But a word of warning. When Sugar Ray made his own comeback after two years away it was a disaster. He lost both his fights, being knocked down twice by Terry Norris and stopped in five by Hector Camacho.
Of course such a fate is unlikely to befall fast-talking Fury, who has already neatly upstaged Anthony Joshua, the Olympic hero who wears the belts that were once wrapped around the 30-year-old Mancunian’s own waist.
It is hard to dispute Fury’s view that Joshua has given big-hitting Wilder a swerve because his connections don’t fancy the fight. Naturally, Fury has no such qualms.
While it is a big ask for him to defeat the American on Wilder’s own home patch, as we said here last week, when opportunity knocks in boxing you have to take it. Just as Fury did against Klitschko.
Opportunity certainly knocks, too, for Paddy Barnes who, in only his sixth pro fight, challenges WBC flyweight champion Cristofer Rosales for his world title.
It is a formidable task for Barnes as the 23-year-old Nicaraguan champ already has had 30 fights, though he has previously lost to two undefeated Brits in Andrew Selby and Kal Yafai.
With the luck of the Irish on his side, Barnes might just pull it off on a belting night in Belfast.
Frampton v Jackson, Fury v Pianeta and Barnes V Rosario all feature on BT’s exclusive live telecast starting at 7.45pm