By Jonathan Drennan
Carl Frampton approaches a boxing ring in his training gloves with the same nonchalance as an office worker pulling up their seat at the start of the day. For Frampton, the Commonwealth super bantamweight champion, boxing is what he has known since he was a young boy growing up in Tiger’s Bay in Belfast. The fact that he is living and training in more salubrious surroundings of neighbouring Chelsea means little to him, boxing rings are the same everywhere, he is here purely for business.
For Frampton is an exceptionally organised young man. He has already plotted and planned the majority of his wedding details in October in tandem with his best man Olympic bronze medalist Paddy Barnes. This may help to explain why he finds it difficult to explain why he has expected Kiko Martinez to fight him twice, and both times has been forced to get a new partner for the big dance. “I laugh it off to be honest, the last time he pulled out he gave us ten days notice, until he’s standing in the ring in front of me I won’t believe it will happen, if he wants to be taken seriously there’s no way he can pull out this time.”
Shane McGuigan and Frampton have developed an almost symbiotic relationship. McGuigan trains Frampton, leaving his Dad Barry to handle the management of Carl’s career. The fact that he is living and training in more salubrious surroundings of neighbouring Chelsea means little to him. Boxing rings are the same everywhere and he is here purely for business. Working to Frampton’s preferred soothing soul music from Sam Cooke, they work on the pads, building up to a steady rattling rhythm, until the final crescendo of the last thumping rounds when the Kings of Leon builds them into a lather of speed and sweat.
The final bell rings in the gym, work is over for another day for Frampton. He holds out his glove for me and asks me politely can I untie the intricate knots that Shane has created. Sitting on the ring apron, Frampton confesses that he is feeling a bit of pressure. “I feel a bit of pressure now and again of course, people in Belfast expect me to win world titles, and we’re not there yet, we’ve got a European title to take care of, but that (pressure) is a good thing, and it’s a driving force for me and I perform best under pressure.”
Frampton’s mentor Barry McGuigan famously made the King’s Hall in Belfast his adopted home filled with vociferous fans roaring him to victory. Frampton hopes that the Odyssey Arena. “The King’s Hall used to be the mecca in boxing in Northern Ireland, but I want to bring the big title fights and nights back to the Odyssey. We need some good news back home.”
Frampton is the product of a newly open-minded Northern Ireland that has been smothered recently by renewed fighting on the streets. He understands that he has become a role model for both sides of the community. “It’s a hard one, I don’t want to be big headed, but you get people looking up to you, from both sides of the community, a lot of little kids especially who are involved in boxing, they see me as a hero which is strange for me, things at home have been worse than in a long time, I just hope things can get back to normal.”
Growing up in the predominantly loyalist area of Tiger’s Bay, Frampton was introduced to boxing at the Midland club which stood near to his home. Boxing has been his passion, his sport and finally his livelihood. Does he ever worry at 25 that he could lose his hunger in the fight business? “When I was 15 or 16, I was making flyweight, I remember killing myself to make the weight, I never did it right, I didn’t know the things I do now I suppose. I remember being in bed close to the weigh ins, unable to swallow I was that dehydrated, I was choking myself, but now it’s my career, I would rather get do this than a 9-5, it’s a short career and I want to get in, win titles and get out.”
In chic Chelsea Frampton cuts a conspicuous figure. His tightly muscled compact body is enveloped in the replica shirt of his beloved north Belfast team Crusaders, contrasting with a female pilates class who have come in for brunch at the neighbouring delicatessen. He misses his fiance and two year old daughter, and confesses his ultimate fears. “I don’t want to be big headed, but I think I’m a far better fighter than Kiko Martinez. Any fears in boxing you might have aren’t from getting a dig to the head, it’s about getting humiliated in front of your family in the ring against a guy you know you should beat.”
Frampton is fully aware of the dangers of Martinez. A keen student of his profession, he watched Bernard Dunne’s crashing defeat at the hands of the Spaniard. “I watched it, but I think it flattered Kiko a bit, it happens, he came flying out of the blocks, Dunne got hit and couldn’t recover, and that just happens in boxing sometimes, you just have to prepare yourself against it as much as possible.”
After 140 rounds of sparring, Frampton is looking forward to a quick weekend trip back home to Belfast before he returns for more work in London. A trip to Seaview to watch his beloved Crusaders has been struck off the agenda. “I’m looking forward to giving Christine a bit of a break and looking after Carla, so I think the football will be getting skipped, I’m not too sure it would go down brilliantly. I’m always looking forward to these breaks, they’re what keep you going in these 10 week camps. I just want the fight to come sooner, the waiting is the hardest part.”
His mentor Barry McGuigan walks into the gym to escort Frampton to an awaiting packed schedule. The warmth between the two men is noticeable and immediate. McGuigan understands clearly what it’s like to be far from friends and family preparing for a fight with the hopes of the nation resting on young shoulders. Happily, it is a burden that Frampton wears lightly.