Carl Frampton frozen out of BBC Sports awards but the welcome from fans is red hot
Boxing superstar Carl Frampton came out fighting in Belfast yesterday, refusing to make any apologies over his claims that an anti-Northern Ireland bias had robbed him of a place on the shortlist for the BBC's prestigious Sports Personality of the Year competition.
The dapper world champion, in a sharp three-piece suit, was defiant as he appeared at a news conference in the Europa Hotel where hundreds of his fans punched home the message that he's still their sports personality of the year, despite what the Beeb say.
The Tiger's Bay hero was in the hotel to promote his WBA World Super Featherweight title rematch in January in Las Vegas against Mexican Leo Santa Cruz who had flown into Belfast for the news conference.
It came only hours after Frampton had unleashed a volley of verbal blows at the Corporation for not including him on the SPOTY list.
"They're jackasses for leaving out the Jackal" said Frampton fan Michael Scott from Bangor.
"He's the UK boxer of the year, a two weight world champion, yet he isn't deemed good enough to be among the 16 nominees. That's nonsense, even after the Rio Olympics."
However Frampton, who'd also claimed the judges were anti-boxing as well as anti-Northern Ireland, vowed that he wouldn't have any sleepless nights over the SPOTY spat which was even raised yesterday in the Assembly - which has seen a fair few scraps in its time.
But many of the Frampton faithful who packed into the Europa hotel said they'd been ready to vent their anger against the BBC's competition judges.
However, they never got the chance to do that or roar their approval of what Carl had said, ironically enough, on the BBC earlier in the day.
For none of the journalists who were present actually quizzed Frampton during the public Q&A session about his comments on the Nolan Show when he'd claimed he would have been on the SPOTY shortlist if he'd been English.
The 29-year-old Belfast man told Radio Ulster: "I feel there's people on that list that I deserved to be in front of."
He said he had unified a title and beat a three-weight champion and all on the road.
But the boxer also launched a few uppercuts against the Beeb on behalf of other Northern Ireland sports stars - including World Superbike motorcycling champion Jonathan Rea and golden girl swimmer Bethany Firth, who also didn't figure among the nominees.
Frampton pointed out that while there was no-one from Northern Ireland on the list, there were five Yorkshiremen on it.
In the Europa, Frampton's wisecracking friend Paddy Barnes, who's just joined the ranks of Belfast's professional boxers, couldn't resist the temptation to banter his pal with a tongue-in-cheek aside about the SPOTY.
But eventually, in a series of one-on-one interviews which weren't heard by the public, Frampton was asked about the row and if he indeed thought the BBC were biased against Northern Ireland.
This led to the gloves coming off again as he countered: "I was annoyed that I didn't get on the list especially as it has been extended this year. I'm not one of these big-headed guys but I think I deserved it because I have had an amazing year.
"I know I was never going to win it because Andy Murray will run away with it - and he deserves it. I'm not disputing that.
"But it would have been nice to be recognised. However, I think the BBC have fallen out of love with boxing a bit and it's maybe because I'm from Northern Ireland, I don't know.
"But Jonny Rea should have been nominated and Bethany Firth should have been in with a shout with three Paralympic gold medals. That kind of indicates that people are anti-Northern Ireland, who knows?"
I asked Carl if he really believed that there was a bias within the BBC against the province, especially as the SPOTY awards ceremony had come from Belfast last time around and Northern Ireland had won a raft of awards.
"I don't know, I don't know. But when you look at it, something's going on. There's a selection process and there's people on the panel that pick it and I don't know why Jonny, Bethany or I weren't put on it.
"But these things happen and I will move on."
He said he wouldn't be losing any sleep over the perceived snub. "It's like water off a duck's back. I've forgotten about it already."
His fans in the Europa were, however, claiming that Frampton's exclusion was below the belt.
Michael McIlwee from Belfast, who was in New York for the first Santa Cruz fight and will be going to the MGM Grand in Vegas for the rematch, said: "Carl shouldn't only have been nominated for his sporting achievements but it's also supposed to be a 'personality' competition.
"And he is one of the few sports people around who have a personality. He is the whole package.
"I'm not too sure about his Northern Ireland comments but he should have been on the list. He's been hard done by."
Michael said he believed that boxing had a major problem because not enough people were seeing the big fights any more as they were broadcast on satellite TV channels which meant the sport was 'tucked away' on comparatively small subscription services.
He said it was significant that Frampton's manager Barry McGuigan had won the SPOTY award in 1985 after his world title win over Eusebio Pedroza in London which had been seen by 20 million people on the BBC.
The Clones Cyclone had also let rip about the controversy calling the decision to count his man out of the SPOTY contest "shocking" and promising that his team would be boycotting the awards ceremony as a result.
"It looks - I hope it's not - but it looks anti-professional boxing," he fumed, little realising that Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster would later go even further, describing the absence of Frampton, Rea and Firth from the shortlist as scandalous.
Motorcycling enthusiast Ian Paisley MP also weighed into the wrangle and said Ulster's two sporting Rorys - McIlroy and Best - had also met the criteria for the SPOTY competition "in bagloads".
The BBC, however, fought back and from their corner came a terse statement which said: "In what has been an extraordinary year of sport many contenders were considered and debated by an expert industry panel who by consensus agreed on the shortlist."
But in the Europa another Frampton mega-fan claimed the Beeb were on the ropes.
"It's very disappointing that Carl hasn't been nominated. I don't think he would have won it but how can they ignore him? After all, his fight against Santa Cruz was probably the best fight of the year," said Newtownards man Clive O'Neill who will be travelling to Las Vegas with no fewer than sixty Frampton supporters.
Yesterday's press conference was in stark contrast to the one in the Europa a year ago when English fighter Scott Quigg and his trainer Joe Gallagher were jeered and ridiculed by Frampton's fans.
Yesterday, the same supporters gave a grinning Santa Cruz a warm welcome to Belfast before slipping into a short-lived bout of ritualistic booing which morphed into a change of tune and applause after it was revealed that the boxer's father had just won his greatest ever fight… against cancer.
Santa Cruz told the fans he thought he would beat Frampton in Las Vegas and promised that if he did, he would bring a third fight back to Belfast.
Frampton's smile said that he didn't foresee that on the horizon and he repeatedly insisted that he had no doubt he would win more convincingly in Vegas than he'd done in New York. But he made a pledge to his fans that they would see him in action in Belfast next year, possibly against IBF champion Lee Selby.
"Las Vegas is huge for me and it's always something that I wanted to tick off the box. But Belfast is my home and I am proud to box here. If I don't fight in Windsor Park before I hang up my gloves I will be disappointed. But I will be there in the summer," said the fervent Crusaders supporter as he happily signed boxing gloves, photographs and posters thrust in his direction by his adoring fans.
And that was despite constant warnings by security men that Frampton wouldn't be autographing anything because of a tight schedule which will see the Jackal and Santa Cruz (left) flying off to Los Angeles inside the next few days for another news conference about their rematch.
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