Belfast Telegraph

Carl Frampton has a deftness of touch inside and outside the ring: Belfast behind boxer as he takes on Martinez

By Ivan Little

In the claustrophobic confines of a tiny prison cell, Carl Frampton didn't take long to convince his fellow 'convicts' in his captive audience that he was one of the good guys.

Several of us were banged up in C wing of Crumlin Road jail with him as part of a fundraiser for the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice the month after he'd knocked out Jeremy Parodi at the Odyssey to retain his European title.

But even though he was very much the man of the moment, here was a shy and somewhat reluctant star who appeared genuinely unaware that the stares from onlookers were for him and not for the TV presenters, comedians and actors with him.

A dispatcher of lethal punches he may have been, but it was obvious he wasn't given to swinging the lead about himself.

But he did talk about how he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Belfast's boxing heroes like Wayne McCullough and Barry McGuigan who had united a city behind them in their day.

Speculation at the time was that Carl would soon be able to fill even bigger arenas than the 9,000-seater Odyssey but it was apparent that he wasn't worried just about more lucrative pay days.

He spoke of how important it was to find the right venue in a 'neutral' part of Belfast where Catholics and Protestants would feel comfortable going to watch him. Nearly a year on, he's found the perfect place to challenge Kiko Martinez for the IBF super bantamweight world title – the Titanic Quarter where a purpose-built arena will host the most eagerly anticipated fight here for decades.

The fact that Frampton, dubbed boxing's Rory McIlroy by one writer, has broken the mould of sectarianism, coupled with his marriage to a Catholic girl, has seen him portrayed as a 'beacon for peace' for a new Northern Ireland by his manager Barry McGuigan. The Clones Cyclone has of course been down this road before. At the height of the Troubles Barry – a Catholic married to a Protestant – had the hardest of loyalist and republican hard men cheering him on in the Ulster Hall.

But it's not just inside the ring that Frampton has shown a deftness of touch.

He was very publicly in wee Oscar Knox's corner as the five-year-old Co Antrim boy battled bravely against cancer.

After a big fight, Carl pulled on a Team Oscar T-shirt and he spoke movingly after the illness ultimately proved too much for the inspirational youngster.

Wearing a Crusaders top, Carl took his wife Christine and three-year-old daughter Carla with him to the Requiem Mass. "I'm heartbroken," he told his 51,500 Twitter followers. After the service he said he was donating blood in honour of wee Oscar and he's already promised to give some of his boxing gear to Team Oscar after tonight's fight.

It's little wonder then that Belfast has taken Frampton to its heart. His candour is refreshing.

He steadfastly refuses to turn his back on his past and talks with pride at having grown up in the staunchly loyalist Tigers Bay where it would have been easy for him to have been lured into the world of the paramilitaries.

He credits his parents Craig and Flo for steering him away from the violence but he admits he did slip out of the house from time to time to watch the riots on the interface near his home.

He was shocked by the death of a friend Glen Branagh, a distant relative of actor Ken Branagh, who was killed by his own bomb in November 2001.

But it was fighting in the boxing ring that was the making of Carl Frampton, though without his mum Flo, The Jackal might never have had his day. For it was her idea that her seven-year-old son should go to the Midland Boxing Club close to their home.

Ironically, officials almost didn't let Carl in because he was so small but the penny later dropped quicker than a fighter with a glass chin that he had something special. He swiftly learnt the ropes, so to speak, not only at the Midland but also in the Holy Family club in the nearby New Lodge where he sparred with youngsters from the other side of the interface.

He could just as easily have been a footballer as a fighter but he turned down the chance to join Crusaders to throw his hat into an altogether different ring.

The 16,000 Frampton fans who will gather at Titanic Quarter tonight are confident it was the right decision and that they'll see their hero completing his maiden world title journey in style.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph