The countries of Ireland and Spain have for centuries been brothers-in-arms. In fact, their relationship began even before it actually began. The largely mythical 11th century Lebor Gabála Érenn, or Book of Irish Invasions, describes how, long before Jesus walked the earth, the eight sons of the Galician Míl Espáine stormed Ireland to avenge their uncle Íth’s murder and ended up spawning the Irish Gaels. It’s a nice story and with Gael sounding suspiciously like Galicia, and Hibernia similar to Iberia, it was plausible enough to survive until the 18th Century.
By that time a more genuine bond had been forged between the two lands. Though now known to be genetically distinct, there was much common ground intellectually, economically, politically, religiously and, of course, militarily. The Emerald Isle’s geographical location made it the ideal pit stop for Spanish ships en route to battle with the English, and the Irish were in general only too happy to provide such a launch pad.
Míl Espáine is Gaelic for Soldier of Hispania, and a couple of millennia after the original set sail for Irish shores, España this week sent a modern day warrior to recommence battle in Erin. Elche’s IBF super bantamweight champion of the world, Kiko Martínez, was back in town to help announce the venue for his title fight with Belfast’s own Carl Frampton on September 6th.
With indoor arenas made redundant by the sheer volume of people that now follow the Jackal, the historic expanse of the Titanic Slipways has been nominated to host the 16,000 eager to see the latest unsinkable Belfast icon to take on the world. That great cursed Irish ship first touched water from these massive concrete mats but none in attendance in September expect anything other than a Spanish vessel sliding backwards helplessly into the murky depths this time around.
Frampton and Martínez fought 17 months ago but, although by definition this is a rematch, it is not born from the usual controversy or acrimony that traditionally accompanies two boxers renewing acquaintances in the ring. Firstly, Frampton won fair and square by 9th round knockout last time around and by rights, Martínez should now be nothing more than a happy memory for the Tiger’s Bay boy. But the dubious intricacies of boxing politics ensured it was the defeated Spaniard who went on to become a world champion while the victorious Irishman was left to patiently await his opportunity. That time has now arrived.
Secondly, much like Ireland and Spain, the Jackal and the Sensation have struggled to generate any of the real animosity that tends to fuel a feud and make a rematch an inevitability. As they grinned in each other’s faces in a head to head pose for the cameras in the Titanic Suite, they were more like mischievous school pals than snarling adversaries. Any casualties would have been victims of a particularly friendly brand of fire.
In truth it was thus before the first bout as well. Martínez’s belated cut-throat gesture at the weigh-in attempted to spice up the rivalry but the aggression appeared forced rather than a manifestation of deep-seated enmity. Kiko’s claim that Carl calling him bald on Twitter was an unforgiveable action also reeked of pantomime offence. I live in Spain and can guarantee that nothing was lost in translation here. Taunting someone over a lack of follicle virility has no secretly vicious or hurtful connotations attached.
Furthermore, the Spanish are notoriously trigger happy with their verbal barbs and therefore a thick skin is pretty standard on these shores. Indeed, I have more than once heard a happily married Madrileño father call his own son a hijo de puta (son of a bitch). I doubt Martínez would have blinked twice had he just heard Mike Tyson express a desire to eat his children so Frampton’s tweet would have been water off a pato’s back.
Finally, Frampton Martínez II needs no hype to sell tickets in Ireland. They’ll be scaling Samson and Goliath, the nearby Harland & Wolff gantry cranes, in an effort to catch a glimpse of this one. The Spaniard was quoted as saying that the passion of the Irish fans will make his foe a very rich man. I imagine he was talking financially but the riches in store for Carl Frampton add up to much more than mere dollars and cents.
The 27 year old has a country behind him and, in the next two or three years, the chance to write himself into the history of his island. And not the pseudo-history of the medieval Lebor Gabála Érenn, but real, 21st century history that will live forever. September 6th on the Titanic Slipways is another step towards that destiny.
Article first appeared in Ringnews24