Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Carl Frampton will always be one of Billy McKee's boys

Carl Frampton pictured with amateur coach Billy McKee

If Carl Frampton ever twitched in the direction of getting carried away with his success he knows there would be one man ready to clip his ear without a moment's hesitation – former amateur coach Billy Mckee.

McKee continues to be at the helm of the Midland club in Tiger's Bay and whether they know it or not, the boys he now looks after are fortunate to have such a straight-talking, loyal man in their corner.

European super-bantamweight champion Frampton will certainly never lose sight of the role McKee has played in his life, guiding him from eight years of age to the point when he turned professional.

The two men have a deep rooted mutual respect for one another. McKee doesn't like the professional business and doesn't care who knows it but he's always there to run his eye over Frampton, such as on Saturday night when the Belfast man retained his European title with a sixth round stoppage of Frenchman Jeremy Parodi at the Odyssey Arena.

Few could have foreseen Frampton's box office appeal but McKee knew from the moment he walked into his gym that he was special.

"He was eight-and-a-half when I said he was the best kid to come through the doors of the gym in 20 years," said McKee, who could be seen yesterday painting the corner posts in the Midland club which also plays host to a pensioners club during the week.

The club is at the heart of the community – just like so many amateur clubs in Belfast – and Frampton would have made the short walk to the club every night with the same zeal and dedication that many more now see as he climbs the professional ladder.

Dad Craig is also part of the club committee as well as a coach and he was in the corner with McKee when Carl landed his first Ulster senior title in 2008 at Andersonstown Leisure Centre – four years on from when he won his first Irish senior title, at flyweight.

Taking Frampton to the Irish seniors at 17 seemed to most a matter of simply giving him experience at that level but McKee believed he could deliver.

"I thought he could steal the title that year and he did," added McKee, who for all his desire to see Frampton succeed insists that he was never treated differently to any of the other hundreds of boxers who have passed through his hands over the years.

"Carl was treated the same as everyone else. I don't care who you are, you get the same treatment, the same encouragement as everybody else. That's the way it is in our gym.

"He's a great lad and I want him to do well and he loves coming down to the club and working with the young lads."

Frampton is quick to acknowledge the help of veteran McKee and it comes as no surprise when you look in the club office and on the wall is a coaching certificate with the Jackal's name on it.

Frampton said: "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.

"He's part of the family, he did a great job with me. 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 during my amateur days.

"I wouldn't be here without him."

While Frampton's major focus is naturally on moving towards a world title shot in 2014, he nevertheless can allow himself a thought on the future and carrying on the legacy of McKee.

"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."

You get a real sense that for McKee to see Frampton one day taking charge of the next generation from the Midland club would mean as much to the veteran coach as seeing him go on to become a world champion.

McKee demands high standards from all in the club, even in appearance, leading Frampton to joke in a pre-fight visit to the club, "Hey Billy what do you make of this beard in the Midland?"

"You know rightly," snapped back McKee.

Respect is the byword of both men and it shines like a beacon in the Bay.