Carl Frampton gets a wake-up call in El Paso
Twice-down Frampton must learn lessons as he is forced to dig deep to keep his world title
Carl Frampton glanced across at his corner with the look of a man who sensed his American dream could be crumbling. Here was a dark place he had never been before and it is in such moments of adversity that we usually find out the true depth of a person's character, writes David Kelly.
Everyone has marvelled in the past at the little man's freakishly strong punching, his cat-like reflexes and balletic footwork. On this sultry afternoon in Texas, they were as arid and barren as the Chihuahuan Desert, a few miles from the Don Haskins Centre in the University of El Paso.
Down for the first time in his career in the first round of his American debut, being screened live on CBS across the States, followed by a second knockdown just before the bell, the next two rounds were going to be all about Frampton's Tigers Bay cojones - and the other outstanding attribute he possesses, a special boxing brain.
Mexican Alejandro Gonzalez jr was viewed by many as a lamb to the slaughter at the hands of Frampton in the second defence of his IBF World super-bantamweight title but suddenly found himself on what he believed was the cusp of glory, despite damaging his right hand with the punch that sent the champion to the canvas for a second time.
The buzz around the basketball stadium, which had around 3,000 in for this afternoon show, was that this raw 22-year-old truly could now emulate his famous father and become world champion. Back in Frampton's corner, coach Shane McGuigan calmly instructed his friend and fighter on a way out of this vortex of Mexican doom.
It was not going to be easy as Frampton continued to take more clean blows from the rangy challenger than he had in his previous half a dozen fights but like all great champions he found a way, a route to success which lesser men could never find.
His boxing antenna finally had a full signal at the start of the fourth - having been made to wince from a low blow in the third, which led to the Mexican being deducted a point by referee Mark Calo-Oy of Texas.
Frampton may have told Shane in the corner that he "just didn't feel right" but there was a fight to be won and for the next nine rounds he demonstrated the guile and craft needed at the highest level of sport. The three judges had it 115-109, 116-108, 116-108 for the champion. On my card, Gonzalez won the first two rounds and shared the eighth.
An hour later in the bowels of the arena, the 28-year-old champion didn't need to utter a word to reveal his thoughts - his was a bruised face contorted in disappointment at how his American showcase had turned out. Yes, Frampton had his 21st consecutive victory, but not the explosive performance he craved.
He wasn't the only one feeling a sense of disappointment as coach Shane could hardly contain his anger at how matters had unfolded, including the large amount of weight that had to be dropped in the final days of preparation.
Together the two men have set the bar of excellence at its pinnacle and so Shane said they both knew that lessons had to be learned.
"His footwork was dead because the canvas was a double canvas, an inch and a half thick. I screamed and shouted at the meeting that I don't want a thick canvas, I want a thin canvas. At the end of the day, this ring is for Julio Cesar Chavez jnr who was fighting later that night because he's a pressure fighter who likes to plant his feet," said Shane.
"I had been in the ring earlier with my two other fighters and I was fearful because I knew Carl would not be able to use his legs - it's one of his best attributes and when you have a thick canvas you can't get the feet going, the way he did against Chris Avalos.
"The weight was high, we had to train a lot of the weight off when normally we use a sauna to save his legs but there's no saunas in Texas.
"But he's also getting too heavy in between fights - I've told him that he's an athlete and to stay like an athlete, stay in shape. If you cut too much weight you leave yourself in a position like that but we had plan A and plan B and plan B worked.
"This is what happens when you're not in control of the promotion and we will never, ever let this happen again. This was a very scary moment but at the same it's a wake-up call."
The last time Frampton had a night that fell short of his true ability was in 2011 when he went the distance with Welshman Robbie Turley and the subsequent four years have been special.
Expect normal, explosive Jackal service to be resumed when he returns to the ring near the end of the year.