Carl Frampton: All hail the conquering hero as world champ enjoys Belfast homecoming to remember
Hundreds pack into grounds of City Hall for chance to welcome boxer after big win
He lived the American dream on a career-defining night amid the bright lights of New York City. But nothing beats a Belfast homecoming for Carl Frampton.
The two-weight world champion was given a hero's welcome last night on his return to his beloved native city.
Hundreds of fans packed the grounds of City Hall to salute their hero.
The 29-year-old secured his place in sporting history books by defeating the previously unbeaten Leo Santa Cruz in Brooklyn for the WBA featherweight title - making him the first Northern Ireland boxer to win world titles at two weight divisions.
First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness were present last night to celebrate his epic win.
Frampton said: "I didn't expect this - it is amazing. The fans always show their support and I'm very, very grateful."
His journey from the back streets of Tigers Bay to global success, transcending sectarian barriers, is one of our greatest sporting stories.
Frampton won his first world title - the IBF super-bantamweight crown - in 2014 when he beat Kiko Martinez.
He became the unified world champion at that weight after defeating WBA champion Scott Quigg in February.
But he gave up his belts and moved up a weight to fight the previously undefeated Santa Cruz.
And two weeks ago Frampton upset the odds to outclass the much-hyped Mexican, winning a majority verdict.
Highlights from the fight were displayed on the big screen at City Hall yesterday.
One clip from the second round, showing Frampton landing a fearsome punch on his opponent, drew huge cheers.
He told his army of fans that there is still much more to come.
A rematch with Santa Cruz before the end of the year, possibly in Belfast, has been mooted.
And Frampton revealed: "I want to be fighting here more often. I want to fight here at least once a year - Windsor Park in the summer."
He also confirmed a fight with British rival Lee Selby, the current IBF world featherweight champion, was a possibility. "I just believe that, me at featherweight now, I don't think there's anyone to stop me - I feel so strong," the fighter added.
Frampton was joined on stage by his proud daughter, Carla (5). She smiled as her daddy was described as a world champion. But his wife, Christine, could not be there as she was suffering from the flu.
Earlier, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister appeared on stage to praise Frampton and his army of fans.
"We are all so proud of Carl Frampton, what a wonderful young man he is," Mrs Foster said.
"He embodies everything that is good about Northern Ireland.
"He inspires young people as well. I'm very, very proud of him."
Event compere Jackie Fullerton teased the First Minister for not getting out of bed to watch the fight, which was broadcast at around 4am UK time.
Mr McGuinness said: "I set my alarm for 3.45am, got up out of my bed and followed it on social media, and I was absolutely delighted.
"I don't give up my Friday nights for too many people, but I'm delighted to be here for Carl Frampton."
Frampton's win over Santa Cruz saw him break into the rankings as one of the top 10 pound-for-pound boxers in the world.
His manager Barry McGuigan said he could be one of the greatest. "We've had some amazing fighters in Northern Ireland over the last 40 or 50 years, some incredible fighters, but honestly I think he can go down as one of the best of all time - he's that good," he added.
McGuigan, a former world boxing champion himself, added: "He's one of the best fighters I've ever set eyes on.
"He is unbelievably talented and he's going to go on to bigger and better things. We haven't reached the top of the mountain yet."
Sports Minister Paul Givan said it was a deserved recognition for an outstanding ambassador for Northern Ireland.
"It is a fantastic story, given his humble upbringing as a working-class boy to someone who has made it big on the world stage," he said.
Among the fans at City Hall was Denise Robinson, who lives just around the corner from where Frampton grew up in Tigers Bay in north Belfast.
"We are all so proud of him," she said.
"He has brought the two communities together. The politicians couldn't do that, but a local boy from Tigers Bay could."
Paul Gordon and Bryce Collins are young boxers at East Down Boxing Club. Both are huge Frampton fans and dream of emulating their hero.
"I'd love to be a world champion like Carl," said Paul.
Agnes Weir had travelled from South Lanarkshire in Scotland for the homecoming.
"I've got friends in Belfast so decided to come over. Boxing is in my family - my cousin was a boxer," she explained.
"I think what Carl has done for boxing and for Belfast is just fantastic.
"It shows what you can do if you dream big enough and work hard enough."