Belfast champion boxer Carl Frampton took to the ring in front of hundreds in Belfast today in the build up to his massive sold-out home title fight on Friday.
The Tiger's Bay boxing talent - who dazzled home crowds last year with an impressive sixth-round knockout of France's Jeremy Parodi - landed a few punches for fans and gathered media at Victoria Square on Tuesday.
He was joined by opponent Hugo Cazarez, alongside fellow Belfast boxer Jamie Conlon and Ricky Hatton.
Frampton is counting down to his WBC World super-bantamweight title final eliminator with Hugo Cazarez at a sold-out Odyssey Arena.
Carl Frampton can be ruler of world, writes David Kelly
Straight-talking Dave McAuley was part of a golden era of boxing in Northern Ireland and according to the former World champion, if anyone is going to come close or even surpass the heady days of the 1980s and early 1990s then it is unbeaten Carl Frampton.
The Larne man, now running the Halfway House Hotel on the Antrim coast, can sense that something special is brewing with Frampton – not unlike when he came through to land the IBF world flyweight title a few years after Barry McGuigan was crowned featherweight king.
As part of promoter Barney Eastwood's stable in Castle Street, McAuley was joined in the status of World champion by Crisanto Espana, Victor Cordoba and Paul Hodkinson, while fellow gym-mates Ray Close, Crawford Ashley, Sam Storey and Noel Magee would go on to win European, British and Commonwealth titles.
Since then we have seen Wayne McCullough and Brian Magee land major World titles, while among others Eamonn Magee, Neil Sinclair and Paul McCloskey have also had their moments in the spotlight.
However, McAuley believes that Frampton has the potential to leave behind memories akin to the success of himself and McGuigan – the Belfast man's manager and CEO of Cyclone Promotions.
As Frampton counts down to his WBC World super-bantamweight title final eliminator with Hugo Cazarez at a sold-out Odyssey Arena on Friday night, McAuley says the Northern Ireland public should be aware of just what they have in the hard-punching man from Tiger's Bay.
McAuley said: "Carl's a great prospect and we are lucky to have him because he's a World champion in the making and I hope and pray that he wins the World title.
"Carl is the most exciting fighter we've had north or south of the border since Barry and I in the 1980s... there hasn't been a buzz about a fighter like it for many years and we have had some very good fighters since Barry and I were fighting.
"But with Carl you can feel the aura that is building up around him, a sense of invincibility and in Belfast he can be invincible because the crowd are so passionate, they're right behind him.
"It's just like when Barry and I were fighting for World titles and you'd hear the noise and you know the opponents are wetting themselves when they hear the sound – I was wetting myself and they were cheering for me!
"The fans are getting behind him because he's so exciting, he punches very hard, he can box on the front foot or the back foot so it doesn't surprise me the way fans have got behind him because they know boxing and they can see he has genuine world-class ability.
"I also like the fact that he is so cool. He would make a good poker player because nothing seems to bother him and that is a great attribute... you can't tell what is going on his head, whereas with other guys you can tell, they give things away.
"He could go on to better what Barry and I did, he has that potential – he just needs to get more world-class experience behind him but that will come over the next couple of years."
Should Frampton come through against Cazarez, he is then set for a showdown with WBC champion Leo Santa Cruz in the summer and while McAuley believes the 27-year-old can defeat the Mexican, he also insists that only the very best preparation will see him land the World title.
"It's great that this is a final World title eliminator for the WBC title, it means he's guaranteed a shot at the World champion, but I think before he goes in against Leo Santa Cruz he's going to need the best sparring money can buy because Santa Cruz is a very good fighter and the fight between him and Carl will be a war," added McAuley, who made six defences of his IBF flyweight title.
"It would be easier for him to fight Scott Quigg or Kiko Martinez for the World titles – Scott Quigg has the WBA regular title but the real WBA champion is Guillermon Rigondeaux, who they call the super champion.
"Carl would beat Quigg and he would beat Kiko again, no doubt. Santa Cruz is a different matter, he's going to be much harder.
"Barry and I had the best of sparring and that made a big difference. The South Americans have their own way of fighting and you need to experience that before you fight them. You can learn so much from them and I know that really brought me on as a fighter and it will do the same for Carl."
As for Friday night's duel with Cazarez, McAuley expects the Frampton fans to enjoy another pulsating night of action.
"This guy he is fighting has proved that he is world-class, winning two World titles at two different weights and he obviously has a lot more experience than Carl fighting at world-class level, so this is probably his toughest fight so far – though obviously the fight with Kiko was tough.
"I think, though, that Carl will catch up with him in the later rounds and stop him."