Carl Frampton was left devastated last night as his dream of becoming a three-weight world champion was ended with a stunning sixth round stoppage at the hands of WBO world super-featherweight champion Jamel Herring in Caesars Palace, Dubai.
The 34-year-old former super-bantam and feather king, stopped for the first time in his career, seemed a shadow of the man who had been crowned the 2016 Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year.
Floored in the fifth round by a straight left hand, Frampton then sunk to the canvas just a minute into the sixth from a thudding left uppercut before a barrage of blows left him staggering across the ring and the towel wisely came in from head coach Jamie Moore.
Frampton had grown old before our eyes and his ring career was over at 1:40 of the sixth round.
The Jackal — who made Irish boxing history when unifying the super-bantamweight titles and then becoming the first Northern Ireland boxer to win belts at two different weights when taking the WBA featherweight title from Leo Santa Cruz in 2016 — came into the ring seeking what he described could be "the greatest moment" of his career by securing a legacy of the first Irish fighter to win world titles in three weight classes. But a surreal, cold atmosphere without supporters for such an historic night reflected Frampton’s performance from the opening bell as he made a sluggish start.
The Tigers Bay man had insisted that he was better than ever in training leading up to last night’s battle but he immediately struggled to slip into range against former US Marine Herring, who was making the third defence of his title and started with clinical precision as he peppered the challenger with textbook punching.
Southpaw Herring, the taller man by five inches, used all that advantage to frustrate the Jackal and, while he was warned for a low blow, the American dominated the opening three minutes with his straight left and right hands.
Frampton used better head movement in the second which was a rather quiet affair until the last 30 seconds when the challenger landed a right hand but the champion responded with a flurry of his own to make sure he remained on top.
It was quite evident that the usual electric footwork of Frampton had suffered a short-circuit as he simply could not find the spark to put the American under pressure.
The pace raised in the third round but Frampton still found himself falling short with many shots until the last minute when he managed to connect with a short right hand and stiff jab. But Herring finished strongly to make it three out of three rounds in his favour as his right lead and left hand continued to score with ease.
Frampton managed to close the gap in the fourth and had some success to body and head, causing a nasty cut over the champion’s right eye. The 34-year-old maintained the pressure and, for the first time, Herring looked uncomfortable. Suddenly it seemed the challenger had gained a foothold and could enjoy some momentum but that flame of hope for his adoring supporters was snuffed out almost as soon as it arrived.
A positive opening to the fifth for Frampton unravelled when he was caught by a spearing left hand that sent him to the canvas. While he regrouped quite quickly, the Belfast man nevertheless had to eat a couple more straight shots just before the bell. Never before had the Jackal’s punch resistance seemed so weak and the momentum was right back with the American.
Herring, who now had a commanding lead, continued with his measured boxing as he comfortably picked off the advancing Frampton, who then walked to that fine left uppercut that sent him to the canvas.
Showing his true grit and courage, the Belfast man rose to his feet but the damage was done.
The champion moved in to finish him off and Frampton was an open target as the punches rained down on the 5ft 5’ warrior. The challenger looked in shock as coach Moore threw in the towel but it was the right call. There was simply no coming back from this onslaught.
It was the end of his bid for history and a career that has given so much joy to so many of his countrymen and fight fans across the world.