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Carl Frampton has always had burning desire to be best, says Billy McKee

By David Kelly

Billy McKee munches on his scrambled egg on toast and reflects on his childhood hero Rinty Monaghan, the former World champion who captured the public's imagination just like the little man who will headline in Las Vegas early on Sunday morning.

The Moyola cafe on Belfast's York Road is just a stone's throw away from the Midland amateur boxing club where Carl Frampton was given the foundation for the success he has enjoyed as a professional, leading to this point when he faces Leo Santa Cruz in a WBA World featherweight title rematch at the MGM Grand hotel which has generated interest right across the boxing world.

Post-war there has not been a superior Irish fighter than Frampton. He has delivered at every stage and seized every opportunity with a feisty desire. In recent years many have tried to climb the same mountain and enjoy the same rarefied atmosphere but along the way have found an obstacle too much to handle.

Trainer McKee, 78, doesn't have to pause for breath when considering why it is that the boy he had from seven years of age has risen to the heights so many would love to savour.

"It's his nature. He always wanted to be number one, to be the best whether it was in sparring or boxing. It didn't matter who he was sparring or he was boxing, he always had the same attitude, to do what he had to do to be the best," said McKee.

"How many times do people say I must get up and do a bit of training and they don't? That's why champions are exceptional because they have the one goal and they're prepared to sacrifice for it.

"So many lads have had great potential and didn't make it and there's usually a weakness in their make-up and it's called human nature.

"Also, a big lot don't get the right people to look after them or they don't get the breaks at the right time. I think a lot of lads going into professional boxing are promised this, that and the other and what people don't realise is that the professional game in the first two years can be very difficult.

"Guys are going with girls to get married or been married and have children on the way and the mortgage has to be paid and you win a few fights and get paid very little money - it takes time to get good money."

Straight-talking McKee, one of the most highly respected figures in Irish amateur boxing, will fly out on Thursday to be at ringside for WBA World featherweight champion Frampton's second battle with Santa Cruz. He will sit with a sense of pride, not only with how far his protégé has come but also the way he continues to conduct himself.

Not one for too much emotion, there may have been a little mist in the eye when he said: "Truthfully, it means a lot that he still recognises me and recognises the club and there's more than me at the club.

"He has moved on of course but he comes down to the club regularly and talks to the kids and if he walks down the Shore Road he'll talk to anybody. Belfast people have a way of treating you as an ordinary guy whether you're a celebrity or not.

"It's very important how he conducts himself... you can have a lot of champions and champions in their own right but he's the people's champion. Whether he's in America or at home, he treats people the same way. He hasn't forgotten where he has come from."

As for this weekend's battle with Santa Cruz, McKee is expecting to witness another triumphant night for the Belfast man.

"Carl has an extra gear and I don't think Santa Cruz has and I think that's why he'll beat him… it hasn't crossed my mind that he will get beat," said McKee, who has enjoyed watching the manner in which Frampton and coach Shane McGuigan have developed their partnership.

"Carl has matured in every way and along with that Shane has improved as a coach. They gel together and that is very important and you know it's no good just saying that he's your coach, he has to be more than your coach to get to that level.

"Even speaking to Shane you can see how he has matured as a person and that's a recipe for success."

Belfast Telegraph


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