Classy Carl Frampton shines brightest of all at Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards
Carl Frampton has joined an elite band of Northern Ireland sporting greats. The brilliant boxer from Tigers Bay won the 2016 Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year award last night and in doing so became only the FIFTH sporting hero from our wee country to win the prestigious prize on multiple occasions.
Also on the list are the finest jump jockey of all time Tony McCoy, golfing greats Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke plus Northern Ireland's record goalscorer David Healy.
Frampton is in esteemed company and deservedly so.
The 29-year-old may have lost to Mexican Leo Santa Cruz in Las Vegas last month in a rematch of their WBA World featherweight title fight, but to the Northern Ireland public he remains a winner. The reception he received from hundreds of guests in the Waterfront Hall as he collected his award at the glittering ceremony was evidence of that.
For Frampton, the loss to Santa Cruz was tough to take. The first defeat as a professional always is.
But have no doubt that the Belfast man has the tools and talent to come back from what happened at the MGM Grand hotel. More importantly, he has the desire and determination.
Last night's award was for what Frampton achieved last year - 2016 was outstanding for the big Crusaders fan as he made history by becoming the first fighter from Northern Ireland to claim World titles at two different weights.
Last February there was the much hyped tussle with England's Scott Quigg in Manchester. Frampton did not reach his highest standards but was still comfortably too strong for his opponent as he added the WBA super-bantamweight belt to his IBF title.
The Jackal Army took over Manchester that weekend and it was a similar story in New York in July when Frampton first took on Santa Cruz with the Mexican's WBA World featherweight title at stake.
There was no hype required for this one. This was one world class performer against another and fight number one in what should become a trilogy was an epic with Frampton coming out on top on points.
In that moment as the decision was announced in the Barclays Centre, Frampton went from Northern Ireland hero to global superstar.
And what is so great about Carl is that, despite all the stardom and the vast amounts of money that have come along with it, he hasn't changed since he was making his name in what is a ruthless game. His parents Craig and Flo deserve much credit for that, as do his early boxing trainers when Frampton first put on a pair of gloves in the Midland Boxing Club in north Belfast.
In 2014, having become World champion, he first clinched the Sports Star of the Year trophy at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, sharing the top prize with McIlroy.
This time, for 2016, he won it all on his own in what many believe was Northern Ireland's greatest sporting year.
To illustrate that, also on the shortlist was double World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea, Ireland rugby captain Rory Best and Paralympic Games swimming sensation Bethany Firth.
Only three boxers have been named Sports Star of the Year; Frampton, Michael Conlan, who was victorious for 2015, and Wayne McCullough, the very first winner of the prize.
"Given the fantastic sporting year that Northern Ireland had in 2016, I'm delighted to win the Sports Star of the Year prize at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, especially considering the quality of the other nominees," said Frampton.
"I always like to see people from Northern Ireland do well and in 2016 we had some great success stories like the Northern Ireland football team at the Euro 2016 finals."
Frampton's ability inside the ring and his personality outside of it has turned him into one of the country's most popular sporting figures.
He said: "I really appreciate the support I receive from the people of Northern Ireland. It means so much to me and my family."
So what's next? Well, following his latest war with Santa Cruz, Frampton is taking a well earned break and spending precious time with wife Christine and children Carla and Rossa.
On the boxing front, negotiations are under way with manager Barry McGuigan hoping to persuade Santa Cruz's team to come this side of the Atlantic Ocean for battle number three.
Regardless of whether the Mexican comes to Northern Ireland, Frampton is insisting that his next fight will be at Windsor Park in the summer with potentially another World title belt up for grabs.
He said: "I was obviously gutted to lose in Vegas but I know I can come back and be a World champion again and I'm looking to have my next fight at Windsor as it will be great to box at home once more."
Expect a sell-out. Expect Frampton to come roaring back and expect King Carl to be crowned champion of the world once again before the year is out.
- Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards: Ireland centurion Best and golden girl Firth stand tall after history-making heroics