Carl Frampton: Why Barry McGuigan's still a knockout in the fight game
We are all basking in the glow of Carl Frampton's tremendous victory over Kiko Martinez to claim the World IBF Super Bantamweight title here in Belfast on Saturday night. And rightly so.
It's yet another illustration of how this small region can command the world's attention for positive and inspiring reasons and in ways which far outstrip the scale of the population base from which our sports and culture generally can draw.
Of course, those activities which depend mainly on the solitary commitment, determination and relentless application of individuals will always find a home in Ulster. We are used to glories in soccer and snooker and, more recently, on the golf course.
And we have always been able to produce exceptional talents in the boxing ring – many champions, yes, and many more formidable opponents for champions from elsewhere. So many, in fact, that the city is a byword worldwide for excellence in both the amateur and professional codes and its clubs and trainers respected across the globe.
All the plaudits go to Carl Frampton, of course. Whatever the life story, however supportive those around him, however brilliant and cool-headed and strategic those in his corner, however many the hours of training and years of aspiration, he is on his own when he gets off the stool and steps forward under the lights to face, most often, another gifted soul where the margins of defeat and victory are as narrow as they can get in sport.
But, in the heat of his triumph, The Jackal will forgive me if I look to his corner for a moment today.
Because if there is one man among us who deserves adequate recognition at this time it is Carl's manager Barry McGuigan.
It was McGuigan's instinct to pitch that title fight for Belfast and it was his conviction in the scale of the potential victory that caused that amazing outdoor arena to be erected in the Titanic Quarter, banking on the location to pull in not only the ghosts of Tigers Bay, the heartland of Frampton's forefathers, but the legions of the city's boxing faithful, ready to rise again when a local boy was tying on gloves with real menace.
That was an act of faith which the people repaid by turning out 16,000 strong and there's no doubt that attendance would have been doubled at least had the arena accommodated them.
It's a long time – nearly 30 years – since 20 million people tuned in to watch McGuigan as the Clones Cyclone take the world featherweight title from the legendary Eusebio Pedroza.
That fight alone installed McGuigan as a hero for ever across the borders, barriers and boundaries of this vexatious region and at a time when there were indeed sudden openings in snooker and soccer which let us all glimpse the potential of our people with the gun laid aside.
In the decades since, McGuigan has conducted himself with grace and integrity, with a capacity for self-deprecating humour and straight speaking, which has sustained the affection in which he has been held since those far-off days.
But this is no cherished antique. McGuigan is an active, productive, energetic part of our business culture as much as of our sporting life. His instinct for what can move the massive resource of the people has been unerring, as befits someone who found himself for an intense period right at the very centre of its attention. Who found himself carrying the weight of expectation and hope of hundreds of thousands of people wanting something good to happen close to them. McGuigan delivered in 1985 and he delivered again in 2014.
There can be no better guide for Carl Frampton as he wakes up to what life is like as a world champion. The only thing heavier than the weight of expectation is the burden of achievement itself and there are other big challenges for Frampton in the ring. There are certainly even bigger fights ahead for this hugely talented lad.
But it can only be an advantage for him that he has as his mentor and guide a man who has been to the very top of his game, both professionally and in terms of what he quickly came to represent outside the ring.
While Carl and his wife Christine, Protestant and Catholic respectively, are seen as a symbol of the new Northern Ireland, Barry and Sandra, Catholic and Protestant, held up a mirror to the complexities of here three decades ago. Their mixed marriage spoke to and for the many in such unions who had no voice. By fighting under a neutral flag and choosing Danny Boy as his anthem, he showed respect for everyone.
So it does no harm today, while we salute Carl and his quick hands, to raise a cheer for the Clones Cyclone, still delivering after all these decades, still making it possible to be part of the big time, still pulling us round the TV across the globe.
Still our champion.
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