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All for one and one for all as Belfast boys Frampton, Conlan and Barnes reach for the stars

 

By David Kelly

Friendship forged in battle is usually titanium-tough, so there is a musketeer spirit in the air as Carl Frampton, Jamie Conlan and Paddy Barnes all have fights critical to their ring future.

Frampton, Conlan, Barnes… it was a line-up that graced the Ulster senior championships a decade ago and tomorrow night the three men now in their 30s find their professional careers interlocking on a Frank Warren show at a packed SSE Arena, that is guaranteed to be value for money.

Former World super-bantamweight and featherweight champion Frampton has such a profile that even in a non-title fight he remains the star attraction as he seeks to re-ignite his career with victory over Horacio Garcia, while Conlan meets Jerwin Ancajas for the IBF World super-flyweight title and Barnes faces Eliecer Quezada for the vacant WBO inter-continental flyweight title and more importantly a top 10 ranking.

The swashbuckling trio walk in the footsteps of numerous little men who have lit up a Belfast stage down through the years and for Conlan he has the opportunity to emulate Frampton by becoming one of only a few world champions from Northern Ireland.

"Usually you don't get this kind of opportunity at home against a top champion and to do it alongside Paddy and Carl it makes it the perfect stage. It does remind me of the Ulsters and hopefully it is because nobody beat me in those," said Conlan, who had bagged four Ulster titles by the time Frampton had his first, though the Jackal did defeat him in an Irish championship semi-final on his way to the title.

"The only thing that could make it even better is to have the fight switched to the Ulster Hall! Even having Tommy McCarthy, Steven Ward and Marco McCullough on the bill as well - it's like it's meant to be for me on Saturday night, everyone together.

"I've always said that we deserve shows like this. This is the golden age of Irish professional boxing - just four weeks ago we had Ryan Burnett becoming a unified World champion and now we have a show like this. For a small city like Belfast it's amazing so the fans should enjoy it while it lasts."

Conlan is under no illusions as to the enormity of the task in front of him with Ancajas starting as the favourite to retain his title but believes he has honed himself mentally and physically to a point that could not be improved upon.

"I really couldn't be in a better place, I am ready for this moment. I know how tough this is going to be and I am ready for it."

It is a night that Barnes is equally looking forward to, not only to progress his own career but also to witness success for his two friends.

"We've been fighting together since we were kids on the Irish team. We're good friends and it's great that we're on one of the biggest cards Ireland has ever seen. I'm just grateful and proud," said Barnes.

"I fought Carl four times. It's 3-1 to him but it should be 2-2. We're all close friends - we spur each other on and that's why there's such a boom in Irish boxing. Seeing the Belfast public come out in such great numbers is great and I know they will continue to do that.

"Sometimes I think, what am I even doing taking opponents like this? It's ridiculous. It's my fifth fight for my second title but it's high risk, high reward. I'm not here to mess about. I'm here to be a world champion as soon as I can.

"If I can't beat this guy, maybe I'm not good enough but I'll throw myself in at the deep end. It will be the toughest fight of my career but I'm more than ready. I know how good I am."

As for Frampton, he has his own business to take care of but is disappointed he cannot be ringside to see Conlan reach out for world title glory.

"Unfortunately I'll be in the changing room getting ready because I'd love to be ringside. Jamie is never in a dull fight and if anyone deserves a world title it's him," he said.

"It's great that Jamie, myself and Paddy are in big fights on the same show and all being well this really could be the start of something special for all of us."

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