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Sweet music from Carl Frampton's fans who carry on singing even though their hero is off key

By David Kelly

All week Carl Frampton's fans had made themselves heard so when they fell silent at the midway point of Saturday night's fight it was a nervy indicator that all was not well with their hero.

The announcement of Frampton's first defeat of his career half an hour later was met with sheer devastation but it wasn't long before once again they were in the MGM Grand hotel's bars still chanting: "There's only one Carl Frampton" and mixing respectfully with the fans of Leo Santa Cruz who had just dealt them a major blow.

Many members of the Jackal Army were doing their best to beat the house at the black jack tables and slot machines right up to the moment it was time to truly focus on the man they were convinced was a safe bet. Indeed, it was mooted that some had placed bets to the value of £600 and £700 on a Frampton win.

Around 4,000 had come from Northern Ireland to support the Jackal and after giving the Nevada State Athletic Commission a taste of what was to come at Friday's raucous weigh-in, they cranked it up again as some bemused high rollers looked on at the spectacle, with one women commenting: "Soccer, right?"

Well not quite but there were numerous clad in their Northern Ireland football tops who made the short walk from the hotel's casino to the Grand Garden, where so many legendary fighters have graced the stage.

Oscar de la Hoya, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Floyd Mayweather… and now a little man from Belfast was the headline act. You couldn't help feel there was something a little surreal about this whole occasion.

Yet, the reality is that none of the aforementioned ring legends enjoyed such a passionate backing. Yes they drew large crowds but not the suffocating support that Frampton enjoys.

Not since former World champion Ricky Hatton came here with 15,000 fans from Manchester who drank the casino dry had their been at atmosphere to compare with that being made by Frampton's own green and white army from every section of the community.

Indeed, Michael Rosenthal, editor of the prestigious Ring magazine, commented: "American athletes just don't get this kind of support - there's no way any American boxer would take 4,000 with him to a fight in the UK. This is just amazing to see."

The Mexicans were in fine voice as well, waving their green, red and white national flags and answering back the Jackal army's chants with their own roars of "Mexico! Mexico!"

That brought out the cheeky side of the Northern Ireland men who responded with: "Build a wall, build a wall".

The good humoured banter continued throughout the countdown to the moment Frampton and Santa Cruz would make their way to the ring.

Images of their first fight flashed across the big screens as the sing-a-long continued, while celebrities such as Gary Lightbody, Colin Murray and Jimmy Nesbitt waited with everyone else, including rugby stars Stephen Ferris and Roger Wilson and Northern Ireland football boss Michael O'Neill for the first bell.

Once the first few notes of Sweet Caroline broke through the air, Frampton's fans knew that the action was just around the corner and when both fighters made their separate ways to the ring they were treated to the obligatory pantomime booing by both sets of fans.

The Jackal would come out to 'Freed from Desire', allowing his travelling support to chant their favourite chorus, "Frampton's on fire, Santa Cruz is terrified, Frampton's on fire" but unfortunately for them the flames were just not going to be quite as bright as before over the 12 grueling rounds which were to follow.

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