Belfast Telegraph

City boxes above its weight again thanks to our Carl Frampton

By Gail Walker

Following Carl Frampton's triumph over Scott Quigg, the Belfast man has joined the pantheon of local boxing greats.

It is an illustrious list to be sure - Rinty Monaghan, Bunty Doran, John Caldwell, Freddie Gilroy and, of course, the honorary Belfast man Barry McGuigan.

I don't claim to be a boxing fan and would have a certain moral squeamishness to the idea of two human beings punching each other.

But that's precisely the point - I know of these legends not because of any great study or knowledge, but because they are engrained in the popular culture of this city. Their exploits and their failures are a way for us to look at ourselves, to understand just who we are.

Perhaps more than any other sport boxing taps into our collective unconscious. Maybe it's because, like boxing, Belfast is profane and hard, built on muscle, sinew and sweat. And like the sport, Belfast likes to think of itself as a place of straight talking, a place where no quarter is asked and none is given.

As well as offering people a way out of poverty, it also unites us with the other "hard" places - Liverpool, London's East End, Glasgow, the Bronx, Harlem and every shanty town on the edge of every urban sprawl everywhere in the world from Santiago to the Phillipines. It links to a wider world where struggle is the rule.

So, whether it's grainy footage of Rinty beating Dando Marino, or stories of Gilroy, or McGuigan on DVD, we are not celebrating a sporting achievement only. We are remembering a moment of true unity when we - or our parents and grandparents - huddle round radios and TVs rooting for the local boy.

Forget the sectarian divide, boxing is one of those sports where the past and present are inextricably mixed. For my generation the touchstone is McGuigan beating the great Panamanian Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road football ground to become world featherweight champion.

Maybe it was the time that was in it - the mid-80s redefined bleakness and hopelessness for people like me who were just emerging as adults into the nasty world of our society.

Somehow, in a way, McGuigan was carrying more weight into the ring than any boxer before or since. He had to win. Simple as that. Anything else made no real emotional sense.

It's not too much to say that the fact he did - triumphantly, spectacularly, memorably - enhanced us all, made us all feel a little bit better about ourselves and each other.

Last Saturday night a hero was advanced for a new generation. Carl Frampton's simple fortitude and grace, his careful approach to the difficult role as representative of the whole community, his bright young positivity as one face of our new population, is only strengthened by his clear mastery of the fine art of boxing, his fast feet and fast hands, his ruthless streak.

It is well documented now how throughout the Troubles boxing clubs - east, west, north and south of the city - provided young men from our disadvantaged areas (read ghettos) with not just purpose and focus, not just an outlet for pent-up energy, not just ideas of fair play and sportsmanship, but also with hope.

And not just the outlandish hope of being a world champion - so much has to be got right to make that dream come true, even for the greatest and most gifted - not just making a living, but the very real evidence that they can, in fact, shape their own lives.

Thousands here have fought in amateur bouts. Most almost certainly know they are not going to be the next Carl or Barry, but they can and do win bouts in everyday life because they have learned how to earn respect for themselves and give it to others.

More than any sport, boxing teaches that everything that's possible is already in one's own two hands.

Those who keep the clubs open and alive deserve praise also. It cannot be easy wending your way down to a Spartan gym on a wet February evening to keep a tradition going, to be a largely unsung part of Belfast history, putting a bit of pride back in the neighbourhood streets.

That's true community activism.

Frampton's win confirmed his personal standing as an undefeated world champion. The comprehensive manner of his victory - eccentric split decision notwithstanding - demonstrated just how far advanced his skills are.

We should all remember and marvel at how so much talent and ability, so much fulfilled potential, emerges from our small streets. When the judges gave Frampton the unified belt he wasn't the only winner.

All those amateur pugilists, all those coaches, all those caretakers, all those volunteers wheeling Super Sers into training halls, all those fight fans and all those non-buffs like me just hoping for the best - we all won.

Belfast won.

And that doesn't happen too often.

Follow me on Twitter @GWalker9

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