Carl Frampton faces acid test
You simply cannot escape the parallels between their careers and as he weighed up Saturday night's fight, Barry McGuigan pondered just how his protege Carl Frampton was stepping up to genuine world class.
“This is his Juan LaPorte fight,” mused McGuigan in the Midland gym where it all began for north-Belfast man Frampton, recalling the night at the when he was rocked to his core by the Puerto Rican before a King's Hall crowd so loud the sound was cut off to a live audience watching in the States on ABC.
LaPorte had been brought over as the acid test, the gamble that had to be taken in order that McGuigan would be truly seen as entitled to a shot at the WBA World featherweight title.
Some say it was his finest hour, what was not in doubt was the examination of his ability and the desire he laid bare to conquer a genuine world class operator. Now he admits the nerves are kicking in as he counts down to Saturday night at the Odyssey when unbeaten Frampton tackles two-time World champion Steve Molitor.
The Canadian, who has mixed in much higher company than Commonwealth champion Frampton, has arrived in Belfast confident of picking off the young pretender. In McGuigan's hey-day he would not have been matched so early with such a fighter but as he says “the world has changed and boxing has changed.”
By the time of LaPorte, manager Barney Eastwood had matched him with world class operators Jose Caba, Filipe Orozco and Charm Chituele.
“This is a critical stage in Carl's career. We wanted him to be fighting for the British and European titles, but Scott Quigg doesn't want to know and Kiko Martinez has now pulled out twice so we've moved on and now Carl is facing an acid test,” said McGuigan.
“This is why I call it his Juan LaPorte fight because Molitor is a world class operator. He has more in his locker than Martinez.
“This is a pressure fight. You could say it’s come early, but boxing isn't the way it used to be... when I boxed there a lot more shows. Now you have to take your chance when it comes and Carl is ready. I've seen him mature and develop as a boxer.
“He's like another son to me. He stays in the house during training, he gets on really well with Shane and Jake. Shane is doing a great job with him in training and he's in tremendous shape.
“The fight is going out live coast-to-coast on ESPN in America, it's against a fighter who has been there and done it, who says that Carl has bitten off more than he can chew. Well, we'll see on Saturday night.
“Carl has had the best camp he has ever had. He worked very hard... preparing for a pressure fighter like Martinez he was already in very good shape before we had the change of opponent and then we had to change things for Molitor who is a more skilful boxer. He's done 162 rounds.”
Put concisely, victory over Molitor will push him Frampton to the cusp of a world title shot and while many believe it is easier to lift a version of the top prize today a quick glance at the super-bantamweight division leaves such conventional wisdom in the spit bucket.
McGuigan (pictured) now has to guide Frampton with all the shrewdness shown by Eastwood when manouvering him to a showdown with Eusebio Pedroza.
“The super-bantamweight division is red-hot. You've got Guillermo Rigondeaux (WBA champion), Nonito Donaire (WBO champion) and Toshiaki Nishioka (WBC champion) — so to win a world title in this division is as hard as ever.
“Carl has to take care of business on Saturday night but in 12 months time he'll be ready for the likes of Rigondeaux. I can see bit by bit how he is developing into a world class fighter.”
The respect between the two men is clearly mutual and Frampton is adamant that he will deliver just as manager McGuigan did 27 years ago in front of another raucous crowd.
“When Barry boxed the King's Hall was the home of Irish boxing, the atmosphere was amazing. Now I'm topping the bill at the Odyssey which I believe is the new big stage for boxing and I can't wait,” said Frampton.
“I'm so pumped up for this and I believe I'm going to knock the guy out.”