Northern Ireland hero Carl Frampton has hailed the impact of coach and mentor Billy McKee on his life and career.
Midland ABC boss McKee, a former President of the Antrim Council and Ireland team manager, passed away on Sunday evening at the age of 83 leaving Frampton and everyone in boxing devastated.
The Jackal, who was guided by McKee from start to finish in his amateur days at the Tigers Bay club, is preparing for his bid to become only the third post-war British fighter to win world titles at three different weights as well as the only Irish fighter to have achieved the feat when he meets WBO super-featherweight champion Jamel Herring on February 27.
“I didn’t need any extra motivation (for the Herring fight) but this just makes me even more determined to do all I can to win that title and I’ll dedicate it to Billy,” said Frampton.
Hit hard by the news his mentor has sadly passed away, Frampton admitted: "I'm still trying to take it in… I knew Billy was ill but we all expected him to pull through.
"It's going to take some time for me to get over it. In two weeks time I'm trying to make history and if it hadn't been for Billy I wouldn't be in this position because he started it all off.
"I know Billy hated the pro game but he knew and understood why I went professional and he was always there for me. I've never respected a man more than Billy McKee. The wisdom he had was just incredible. It didn't matter what I chatted to him about he would give me wise counsel.
"I know everybody looks at the boxing success but it was much more than that with me and Billy. He genuinely treated me like another son and during my time as an amateur in the Midland I never once had to put my hand in my pocket. Even when trips were paid for by the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, Billy would hand me spending money.
"I loved Billy McKee and I know he loved me… I never said it to him and he didn't say it to me but we didn't have to.
"Helping boxers become a success in the ring was one thing but for Billy and so many amateur coaches it's more than that. Billy wanted to turn lads into good citizens - he was a social worker without the title and qualifications."
During his time as an amateur, Frampton won Irish senior titles at flyweight and featherweight and they gave McKee great pleasure. The win over David Oliver Joyce in 2009 at the National Stadium stands out as Frampton had entered the ring as the underdog.
"People can often forget, just because of what I've done as a professional, just how big a deal that was for me beating David Oliver. He had achieved so much as an amateur. I had messed about a bit leading up to past tournaments but for that one Billy and I had worked so hard together, I was so focused and to drop David Oliver and get the win was a great night for us," added Frampton.
"The club meant so much to Billy but he always drilled into me about the importance of family life and what's really important - about security for my family and how boxing was really not that important and he's right.
"In the club he set the tone and the standards of what was expected and it was all about respect. Everyone was treated the same. If you were prepared to respect the club then you were allowed to train and get all the help you needed.
"I remember one night when two heavies came down and asked for the keys to the club so their boss could do a bit of training in the club and Billy told them where to go and sent the message that the club only opened between 6.30 and 8.30. The man apologised and it never happened again.
"Billy was all about respect, that's why when I was messing about as you do at 16 or 17 I would always be more afraid of Billy finding out than my parents. He said he always found out.
"My sympathy goes out to his wife Eileen, the family and everyone who knew him because we're all taking it very hard.
"If I could be half the man Billy McKee was with his standards and values I would be very happy."