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Fierce rivals are a throwback to the ruthless past

By Steve Bunce

Published 26/02/2016

Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg with promoters Barry McGuigan and Eddie Hearn
Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg with promoters Barry McGuigan and Eddie Hearn

Long before Scott Quigg was part of tomorrow's fight and long before 10,000 set sail from Belfast for Carl Frampton's part in the mayhem, the two boxers were anonymous scrappers in a forgotten realm.

The death last week of Wee Walter McGowan, one of only four British boxers to hold a World title in the Sixties, was a timely reminder of how the dirty old business of boxing worked; Quigg and Frampton are cut from the same harsh cloth as the brilliant Scotsman.

They collide tomorrow at the Manchester Arena for two World title belts, with too much pride and enough bad manners to make a case for this having as much nastiness as the rematch between Carl Froch and George Groves in 2014.

If this fight had fallen in the summer then a crowd of 50,000 would not have been a shock. This is not a phoney war.

In the Sixties, McGowan alternated between sell-outs at Wembley, Bangkok and Rome, and cameos at gentlemen-only clubs behind closed doors.

He took risky fights weeks before major fights and was often back in the ring weeks after gruelling 15 rounders. It was a relentless and unforgiving business that McGowan briefly ruled and he had more fights than Quigg or Frampton by the time he was 28; Quigg is 27 and Frampton 29.

When Quigg turned professional in 2007 he was fighting way under any radars in front of 200 or so at dinner shows in obscure hotels. He was grubbing a living on the undercards of now vanished fighters.

Frampton went pro two years later and also fought in obscurity, but he was being protected from the pressure and expectation attached to any quality Belfast product.

He won in Huddersfield, Middlesbrough and Bethnal Green; his first fight was at a venue in Liverpool that once had two camels living in its basement. McGowan would have approved.

Now the pair hold a World title, two of 12 that British boxers have, and are unbeaten, slick players in a business that will reward them with millions.

McGowan would have no idea about sums, having been tempted to Thailand by £10,000 to lose his World title.

Eddie Hearn, the co-promoter of tomorrow's fight, was once in Frampton's camp and talked boldly of Frampton knocking out Quigg; he is now in Quigg's camp and talks boldly of Quigg knocking out Frampton.

It's not quite as contradictory and ruthless as Don King, but it is still an impressive piece of repositioning. In 1973 King was involved with the Sunshine Showdown in Jamaica between World heavyweight champion Joe Frazier and the raw but lethal George Foreman.

King arrived with Frazier in the champ's limo and entered the ring with Frazier but after each knockdown inflicted by Foreman's iron fists, he moved further away from the corner.

At the end of the fight, Foreman was the new champion: King stepped over Frazier to switch camps, left the ring with Foreman and travelled back in the new champion's limo.

King once told me: "I never stepped over Joe, I like Joe. I stepped around him."

There has been a deeply personal edge to the fight since it was announced. Old wounds from the short dalliance of Team Frampton with Hearn's business has left the type of sores that fester. It is refreshing to have two rival camps that speak of their hatred for each other.

It can get annoying when people waffle on about respect when I know that the two boxers, their promoters and trainers detest each other. Wee Walter would understand and he would take it personally.

Belfast Telegraph

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