By Jonny Stapleton
‘We’ve been here before’ quipped Belfast based respected boxing scribe Steve Wellings with a smile sent in my direction as Carl Frampton strutted through a wall of sound en route to the ring.
Myself, Steve, his customary packet of Worthers Originals and the mini army of Irish boxing press had occupied ringside at Frampton fights going back to the Ulster Hall days. We had been in the Odyssey Arena, the venue for that nights Frampton versus Martinez I bout, and at McCloskey and Rogan clashes too.
However, Boxing News’ Irish go to man wasn’t talking about the Arena that was quickly becoming known as ‘The Jackal’s’ liar, nor was he was indicating we had previous live fight night Frampton experience. What Mr Welling’s was suggesting was we were not raucous atmosphere virgins.
We had been immersed in that hairs on the back of the neck atmosphere before. That collective excitement that makes you want to ditch your pen and note pad, grab a ticket and join the fanatical, vocal and often tipsy punters further away from ringside wasn’t completely new to us.
It’s passionate, partisan and lets party! It’s a unique sporting experience that only boxing in Ireland can generate.
Forget raising the roof ‘The Jackal’ Army where threatening to launch the Odyssey cap into orbit. And, yes we had been there before!
Apart from the flashing of camera phones it was identical to the atmosphere created by one Bernard Dunne back in what up until Frampton’s arrival were known as the ‘good old days’. That blue European super bantamweight title and a pacing Kiko Martinez added to the familiarity.
Wellings was talking about the call to arms of the Jackal Army.
You watch with pride as the foreign media sit stunned as cheesy wedding DJ classics such as ‘Alice’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’ are belted out like they were national anthems. The 9000 in attendance warm up their vocal cords, readying themselves to further raise the decibel levels when their man makes his way to the ring.
If your feeling proud you wonder what the fighter must be feeling as the noise travels down the corridor and into his dressing room.
Come ring walk time you stand up, you soak it in, you smile in the knowledge that you experiencing a special sporting moment.
Yes we had been there before, yes we were there again, but in terms of Frampton you get the feeling he could take the modern day Irish fight fraternity to places we have never been.
Like Dunne, the Belfast star has captured the hearts of his home town. The Cyclone Promotions fighter also boast that illusive and much desired ‘cross over’ appeal- and has created a storm among casual fans.
Again similar to Dunne in Dublin a Frampton fight is massive news in Belfast. He jumps from the back to the front page, is the apple of terrestrial news eye, celebrities decorate ringside at his bouts and even his lovely wife Christine is in media demand.
It’s all reminiscent of the much mourned Dunne era. Any objections along the lines ‘Frampton hasn’t emulated Dunne’s World title winning achievements’ wouldn’t be overruled, but whilst he hasn’t claimed a world strap he has claimed ticket selling bragging rights.
Frampton rematch with our old pal Kiko Martinez will be played out in front of 16,000 fight fans- Dunne’s fight of the year contender with Ricardo Cordoba tested the hearts of 9000.
And you always got the feeling that historic night and unforgettable night in 2009 was going to be the pinnacle of Dunne’s career, the end to of an emotional and exciting journey. On the other hand win on September 6 and it could prove the beginning of one of the most exciting chapters in Frampton’s career and Irish sport.
The super bantamweight division is hot at the moment their are high profile fights with the likes of Scott Quigg, Leo Santa Cruz and the fighter no one wants a piece of Gullerimo Rigondeaux all availble to Frampton.
Unlike Dunne, Frampton is also known outside of Ireland and is a name American and British boxing scribes often type on the keyboards. A bout with Quigg would be massive and given the Skysports News treatment could be a Stadium sell out.
Cruz, who fights as chief support to Mayweather next time out, would provide passage to the American big time. He has already expressed a desire to trade leather with Frampton and a fight with the Mexican Showtime regular could provide the Cyclone Promotions puncher with the chance to take America by storm. He could certainly do a Ricky Hatton and bring an invading Jackal Army to the States. The Belfast lilt might fill the New York air drown out the sound of Vegas slot machines as Frampton comes an American fixture.
Cork managed Cuban fight legend ‘Rigo’ provides potential passage to the pound for pound rankings. Although most would urge Frampton to steer clear for now.
Regardless there is a real air of optimism about the Martinez repeat not just because Frampton could join names such as Barry McGuigan, Wayne McCullough, Steve Collins, Dunne, Brian Magee and so on the list of Irish world champions, rather an IBF super bantamweight world title win could lead to mega fights.
There are those who will rightly argue that Irish fighters have been involved in fights of the massive, mega and money spinning kind already. However, modern era wise their is a unique feel to what Frampton can do.
Only recently Matthew Macklin shared a ring with Sergio Martinez, Andy Lee with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, but at the time neither fighter had a solid base of support in Ireland. Nor did either have the option of winning a World title on home soil or unless the fought each other of selling out a 16,000 venue at home.
They both entered those fights as underdogs and as challengers. If Frampton claims the IBF strap he will go into mega fight negotiations as a champion and with the bargaining chip selling out stadiums brings.
Without winning a World title ‘The hardest punching super bantamweight in the world’ is already bringing Belfast, the boxing capital of Ireland the biggest boxing show it has ever seen. Indeed such is his talent and such is the hype he has ensured Ireland’s biggest fight night since Steve Collins challenged Chris Eubank twice in 1995.
All this and he is only 27 and with his peak years ahead. Sunday September 7 might be the first step in a journey the likes we have never been on.