Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg trade verbal blows at the Europa
Pantomime season came early to the heart of Belfast yesterday as boxer Carl Frampton starred next door to the Grand Opera House in his own knockout show that the wags were calling Jackal and the Beanstalk.
But the gloves eventually came off as Frampton went toe-to-toe with his English rival Scott Quigg at an extraordinary Press conference in the Europa Hotel held to promote their big money world title unification clash in Manchester in February.
After what was initially a fairly gentle sparring session, Frampton dropped his Prince Charming act to angrily attack Quigg's backroom team.
Hundreds of the Belfast man's fans loved every bit of the venom and threw in quips which would have done May McFettridge proud.
The boos and hisses had rung out from the moment the Bury boxer strolled cockily onto the stage with his WBA belt, but Quigg quickly twigged that he wasn't the real villain of the piece in the eyes of IBF super-bantamweight champion Frampton and his manager Barry McGuigan.
No, the anti-hero's role was reserved for Quigg's manager Eddie Hearn, who was called a liar, an a****** and other names too rude to print on a day that was in sharp contrast to 24 hours earlier in Manchester where the second round of a whirlwind publicity tour attracted only 150 fans.
Nearly 10 times that number descended on the Europa's Grand Ballroom yesterday, while ladies who lunched in the rarefied surroundings of the hotel's upstairs lounge looked on in utter bewilderment as the roars erupted from a few yards away.
Belfast fans serenaded Quigg with chants of "Who are ya?" and one even suggested that he had got his contentious WBA belt from Toys R Us.
But Quigg tried to bounce back off the ropes with a few verbal counter-punches of his own, insisting that he wouldn't be intimidated by the Belfast fans who he said wouldn't faze him in Manchester or stop him from knocking out their hero.
But any referee with half a heart would have stopped the contest, especially after Frampton held up a handwritten proclamation in front of his face saying he was the real champion.
Hearn clearly thought he could go the distance, but he found it tough to handle a few low blows as one joker in the crowd wondered if he'd had a facelift, and another called him "Eddie Botox". Yet another questioned if his hair was his own.
Quigg's trainer Joe Gallagher tried a bit of fancy footwork, playing the flattery card by paying tribute to Belfast as one of the world's great fight cities and saying that Frampton's fans would drink Manchester dry in February. But still the jeers came.
However, after the early knockabout it all kicked off in earnest, leaving the impression someone had reminded the pugilistic protagonists that it's needle and not niceties that puts bums on seats for world title scraps.
Frampton was first on the offensive, telling Hearn and Gallagher that arrogance didn't go down well in Belfast and predicting that there would only be one winner in February - him.
Frampton said Hearn was lying that the Belfast fighter had ever said he was expecting an easy fight against Quigg: "Just like you lie to all your fighters and pretend that you actually give a fiddler's about them. The mask is slipping. Everyone is seeing the real Eddie Hearn. He loves the money," he added.
McGuigan followed up with a jab or two in the same direction. He questioned Hearn's assertions that Quigg was doing Frampton a favour by taking the fight. "You are working for Carl, he's not working for you," he told Hearn, adding: "Don't be so smug. You're an a******."
The crowd were loving it and some of them were advising McGuigan and Hearn to settle their differences with their fists.
But in a bid to defuse the tensions the Press conference host, Adam Smith from Sky Sports, opened up the questions to the audience.
One Southern fan dispensed with anything resembling the Marquess of Queensberry rules and encouraged Quigg and Frampton to "punch the heads off each other" in February.
And eleven-year-old Frampton fan Dylan Conville from the Shankill Road earned one of the biggest cheers of the day by asking Quigg: "How does it feel knowing that Frampton is going to knock you out?"
The answer was hard to hear, and Dylan's show-stopper was followed by the obligatory sight of Quigg and Frampton going head-to-head, and as they moved closer and closer it was clear that what they were exchanging wasn't pleasantries. But McGuigan dashed the fans' hopes of a free punch-up as he stepped in to separate the pair.
Afterwards, I asked Frampton what he and Quigg were saying to one another. He replied: "I was asking him how the Europa crowd compared to the 100 or so he got in Manchester. He just kept repeating: 'I'm going to knock you out'."
Frampton, who was mimicking Quigg's accent by this stage, said things had got a little heated during the photoshoot, but he insisted there was no animosity between the two fighters, adding: "This is business. I'm going to go into the ring and beat him and then I'll shake his hand."
But he added: "I don't like Joe Gallagher or Eddie Hearn and the way they have disrespected me in the past."
And the look on his face left any listeners in no doubt that he wasn't joking.