Carl Frampton standing on threshold of greatness
On one corner is the National College of Art, around another the offices of Simon Cowell and Victoria Beckham and in the middle a cavernous multi-million pound property site in the middle of which 5ft 5’ Belfast man Carl Frampton pounds sparring partners and pads alike believing every punch, every drop of sweat can lead him to greatness.
This area of Battersea, Testbed, is described by co-owner Will Alsop as “a fantastic and dramatic space and an exciting new avante garde destination for the creative industries, science and artistic individuals of London”, a far cry from the usual gnarled setting of a boxing gym and almost in keeping with the surrounds Frampton goes about his Noble Art with an unusual, paradoxical mix of high intensity and poise.
It is the calm before the coming storm on February 9 at the Odyssey Arena when he steps through the ropes to challenge European super-bantamweight champion Kiko Martinez.
The 25-year-old’s stock is rising, ticket sales have shot up and there is a deep sense that the next 12 months may well define his career.
A proud Northern Ireland man, Frampton pulls at his cheek and ponders just where his journey could end up, how he would like to be remembered as manager Barry McGuigan brings in lunch — lamb, eggs and salad — from the neighbouring street kitchen.
“To be a Northern Ireland hero, it would be great... that would be the ultimate for me.
“To be honest I don’t think I’ll get close to the level of fame and popularity that Barry and Geordie Best did but if I got a little bit close it would great,” says Frampton.
“It’s important to me because I want when people mention me in the future that they say ‘ah he was a good fighter’ but also to say ‘he was a nice guy’.
“I think Northern Ireland could do with another hero... for such a small country we’ve produced some great sportsmen.
“There’s Rory McIlroy, he’s top dog as far as sporting personalities go and rightly so, but maybe this could be the year of the Jackal. If people see me as one of those top sportsmen then that would be great.
“I was a big Wayne McCullough fan growing up, him being a local boy. I admired the way he fought, he wore his heart on his sleeve, he got stuck into everyone.
“He was so fit, such a dedicated fighter, probably had the best chin in boxing, a massive heart.
“And as a kid I went to the Crues matches and a hero of mine was Kirk Hunter and he wore heart on sleeve and I’m like that.
“Even when I played football for Loughside Boys and I was small, I was aggressive, I always wanted to win.
“That’s what annoyed me when I played and we lost a match that we should have won, I’d be down in the dumps for two days and you go into the changing rooms and your team-mates are laughing as if didn’t matter but for me I always wanted to win and boxing is different, you have to win.”
Frampton has managed to have his hand raised on 15 straight occasions since he signed with former world champion McGuigan whose son Shane controls every aspect of the Commonwealth champion’s training regime, including his ‘Caveman diet’ which will include a juicy steak for breakfast.
Indeed, for the past 10 weeks Frampton has been living with Shane and his wife, the two men almost inseparable as they go to and from Shane’s gym which is on the site of a 150-year-old loading bay and backs on to the Vivienne Westwood studio.
“It’s a strange place for a gym for sure. The other day I went across to the cafe and there was nude modelling going on for artists and you get the arty-farty people stopping to stare through the windows at me training but I don’t mind,” says Frampton who frequently has bouts of celebrity watch as he makes his way to training.
“You see Katie Price’s pink Range Rover going by, I saw Harry Hill having coffee the other day, there’s so many and I embarrass Shane when I go up for a photograph.”
For all the frivolity around him, there is the hard grind of daily preparation and Frampton admits that being away from wife-to-be Christine and daughter Carla is far from easy.
“The hardest part of training is being away from Christine and the child. It does get to me and it’s getting harder, especially Carla becoming more aware, she gets upset now when I have to go. When her mummy tells her daddy is going to work, she’ll say ‘don’t go, don’t go, no daddy’.
“It’s not nice but I have to try and blank that out and get on with it. I do get home, I made an arrangement that I get home every couple of weeks for a couple of days... it’s tough on Christine, she’s a great girl but she doesn’t ask for help, she takes it on herself and I really admire her for that.
“She knows that I have to go away and I know that I have to be here so I can be successful. Shane is a great coach, he probably knows more about boxing than I do. I can see the change since Shane came on full time, I’m a different fighter.
“He knows everything about strength and conditioning and technically he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever worked with.
“When it comes closer to the fight he jokes with me that I turn into a grump but I think that’s natural with most fighters. But I’m no worse than Paddy Barnes — I know that for sure having shared a room with him on Irish trips.
“Paddy is alright, keeps himself to himself, but I used to sing all the time and he hated it, used to walk out of the room. Making light-fly isn’t easy.
“I think people thought I would struggle to make super-bantam because I finished my amateur career as a featherweight but since I came with Barry I never once thought ‘I hate this sport, I don’t want to do it any more’. When I was making flyweight as an amateur I wanted out, I hated it, didn’t want to box any more.
“I remember lying in bed a few days out from trying to make eight stone and not being able to swallow, that’s how bad it was... I used to stand up and I’d be getting light heads when I would get up from the sofa.
“Then it would show in my performances because I was always good for two rounds and then if I wasn’t well in front I’d get beat but now I’m stronger than ever.”
Not only is he stronger but having witnessed his sparring with welterweight Dean Byrne — who went the distance with world contender Carson Jones — his ring savvy and speed have improved enormously, just in time for what could be a memorable year.
“I want to go down the aisle in October as a world champion, I know I can do it,” he adds before heading back out past the arty-farty studios.
Tomorrow: Barry McGuigan talks exclusively to us about Carl Frampton, life after boxing and the role of son Shane