Mentor Billy McKee’s joy as Carl Frampton takes off
Away from the spotlight in his office at the Midland amateur boxing club, Billy McKee has a knowing smile as he looks out the window at his protege Carl Frampton handling a round of media interviews.
McKee, a straight-talking no-nonsense coach, honed the young north Belfast lad into not only a champion but a role model.
The Tiger’s Bay man has moved on a great deal, boxing in front of 10,000 people on the supporting bill to World champion Carl Froch and now live coast to coast across America on ESPN.
But on the wall in McKee’s office is clear evidence of where his heart lies as a level one coaching certificate has the name Carl Frampton on it.
That raises another smile from McKee who openly admits he has little time for the professional business but he will be there tonight at the Odyssey Arena when Frampton steps up a level against Canada’s Steve Molitor. Their bond will last a life time.
“I don’t get involved, he’s not my fighter any more,” says McKee before abruptly stating, “well he’ll always be my fighter...
“He was always a special kid, always very dedicated and he has always shown respect. Even now he will always ring to ask if it’s alright for him to come down to the gym.
“When he’s home he comes down, puts the pads on and works with kids and of course they love it, they’re in awe of him.
“He’s a great role model for the sport, he hasn’t changed a bit. He was always a pleasure to train — the only problem you had was that he always wanted to have a fight but then he developed his boxing skills and you saw that at the end of his amateur career.”
Frampton is quick to acknowledge how McKee was always in his corner, whether in the ring or in the sometimes dark political arena of amateur boxing and one day he would love nothing more than to “give something back” to the place where he learned his trade.
“Billy has always been very honest, says it the way it is and people don't like it... he looked after me and he's still doing it. I've been there since I was seven and he's part of the family, he's done a great job with me,” says Frampton, who will have Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes and Crusaders captain Colin Coates carrying his belts to the ring.
“My parents were strict but Billy was even more strict, I never wanted to let him down.
“He backed me up so often, won so many arguments for me when I would have been overlooked.
“The club was two minutes from my house in Upper Canning Street, my family were always interested in boxing... a
squad of us went down, about eight, and I'm the only one who stuck at it.
“It's a hard life being a boxer, at seven I was training three nights a week, I was playing football as well, then when you get to 12, 13 it gets tougher, making weight.
“I was at a weigh-in a few years ago for the Antrims or Ulsters with a couple of kids from our gym and I saw a kid, and he was 32kg, tiny kid and he was 0.1 or 2 over the weight and the coach put a sweat suit on him and put him on the treadmill and he started to get on it to lose the weight, I couldn't believe it. People were shocked by it.
“I'd love to coach one day... I’d like the challenge. You get a kid coming through the door and you could turn him into a junior or senior champion, I'd love that.”
There’s a real sense talking to McKee that to see Frampton one day taking charge of the next generation from Midland would mean as much to the veteran coach as seeing him go on to become a world champion.
Should Frampton move to the point of challenging for the ultimate honour in professional boxing then he will have to handle the smooth skills of Canadian Molitor.
While he may be a humble, respectful guy away from the ring, Frampton admits that once the gloves are laced on and the lights dim he is a different person.
Indeed, there were already signs of that at the media session earlier in the week at Midland and at Thursday’s press conference at the Odyssey.
“It’s a bit Jekyll and Hyde... I’m naturally a shy guy but once I’m on the ramp ready to make my ring walk I am so pumped, it’s my arena, it’s where I shine. I feel at home in the ring.
“I’m so excited about Saturday night. It’s a massive fight, he says experience will be to his advantage but I have a lot of experience behind me as well in the amateurs.
“I respect Steve, he’s a two-time world champion but he’s had his time, this is my time and on Saturday night I’m going to show everyone that it’s my time.”
And no doubt when the dust has settled after the battle with Molitor, the 25-year-old will be paying another visit back to Midland where it all began.