At one point it looked like their respective first bells would chime simultaneously, like final-day-of-season football games in which one team’s result could affect the performance of another. And despite the ire of the millions desperate to enjoy both, perhaps that would have been fitting.
Yesterday, at around 10pm in Manchester and 4pm in Texas, the two star-crossed super bantamweights, Scott Quigg and Carl Frampton, took further steps along their individual fighting paths that we all hope will eventually lead to a shared ring.
I was not unduly concerned when it appeared the two bouts would overlap: I had Quigg on the box and Frampton via online television, and anyway, the Belfast boy would take care of business in a round or two while Bury’s finest was scheduled for a 36 minute war. Any multi-tasking would surely be limited, I believed. I was right, as it turned out, but for all the wrong reasons.
As the Jackal was making his way to the ring in El Paso, Quigg was busy being bossed and bullied around his own square circle in round one at the MEN Arena. Kiko Martínez likes to start his fights quickly and aggressively, just ask Bernard Dunne, and last night was no exception.
The Spanish ex-world champion is an old 29 after a series of brutal wars, some won, some lost, but as he harried the 26 year old WBA regular champ across the canvas floor for the opening three minutes, any thoughts that he may be overly shop-worn or lacking in belly fire were surely dispelled. This was authentic Kiko and he was in Manchester to win.
But Quigg and his strategist trainer, Joe Gallagher, always have a plan and within 30 seconds of the second stanza they executed it. Unpredictability is not one of Martínez’s attributes and as he ploughed forward bullishly once more, Quigg was waiting was an exquisitely timed short-armed uppercut. It stung the Spaniard and a couple more scuffed blows was all it took to down him.
He rose quickly but was clearly still buzzed and that was all the invitation Quigg needed to unleash hell in the form of a barrage of twenty or more two-fisted hooks. A big right dropped Kiko again and referee Terry O’Connor had seen enough.
Fighters love to make metaphorical statements between the ropes and that was certainly a grand one. Martínez lasted a total of 21 rounds against Frampton but could survive just one and a bit against Quigg. Any lingering doubts over the Englishman’s power, or his capacity to mix it with a world level fighter, had been knocked out cold.
Meanwhile, 5,000 miles away in the Don Haskins Convention Centre, IBF champ Frampton was being announced to a largely hostile Latino crowd. Though he could not have known what had just transpired in Manchester, he began his first bout on American soil as if something was distracting him.
Never down in 104 previous rounds as a professional, the Northern Irishman touched the canvas twice in a nightmare opening act in Texas. The first flash knockdown was the result of walking onto little more than a fresh jab and the sheepish grin on the Frampton’s face betrayed his embarrassment.
The second was a more substantial right hand but still not of the calibre that normally troubles Carl. As he moved to a neutral corner, again totally unhurt save a severely wounded pride, the bemused shake of his head was reminiscent of a Ronnie O’Sullivan reaction to missing a black off its spot. These things shouldn’t happen to the sporting greats.
Frampton and the McGuigans will undoubtedly analyse what went wrong. Was it an understandable case of nerves brought on by the occasion of an American debut? Was it a result of the added pressure of a perceived responsibility to impress and entertain his new audience? Did the notoriously spongy US ring floor sap some bounce from the Jackal and render him temporarily flat-footed? Are the demands of making the 122 lb limit finally catching up with him? Was Alejandro Gonzalez Jr. simply infinitely better than he had been previously given credit for?
A little of all of the above is probably the answer but the final point cannot be overstated. The 22 year old Mexican with a 25-1-2 record was chosen, not as a soft touch, but certainly as someone Carl could look good against. As apparently only the 12th best super bantamweight in his country, el Cobrita certainly appeared to fit the bill. But there is a saying about covers and judging them.
Country rankings are often finger-in-the-air calculations at the best of times but when the country concerned is Mexico, with 243 ranked super bantamweights currently in operation (for perspective, there are only 105 in the whole of Europe), it is particularly difficult to be certain of what you have on your hands.
Gonzalez Jr. didn’t look a world beater on paper, or in person due to his wiry, waifish frame, but he is technically and tactically astute, blessed with a solid chin, and as Frampton later acknowledged, he’s a warrior who can punch. Five attributes that will guarantee any opponent a tough day at the office.
In truth, Frampton was never in genuine danger, won comfortably in the end, and will emerge from the experience an even more complete fighter than he already was. The composure to recover so emphatically from a 10-7 opening round, particularly away from home, is the mark of a mature champion.
By the third he was fully settled and, though not punch perfect like his previous two outings against the same Martínez and Chris Avalos, some of the combinations were frightening in both their speed and accuracy. Apart from one brief retaliatory shot, he remained calm in the face of continued low blows, and picked his man off at will to win 10 of the 12 rounds on two of the judges’ scorecards.
There was some despondency from Frampton and his manager, Barry McGuigan, immediately after, but in the cold light of day they’ll reflect on an ultimately clear victory over a live opponent and a performance that, one way or another, guarantees the Americans will be happy to have him back.
Before that happens, however, the clamour for McGuigan and Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn to put Frampton and Quigg together in a domestic showdown may dictate that the Northern Irishman fights closer to home. Negotiations between the two camps, formal or otherwise, stalled over the prospective purse split and it remains to be seen whose hand was strengthened by last night’s events.
If anyone, perhaps Hearn and Quigg will be the happier: they have certainly been the more buoyant in post-fight interviews and tweets anyway. I’m on record as saying that the Englishman should be grateful to accept a minority share of the millions on offer but his destructive performance, paired with Frampton’s brief display of vulnerability, has probably earned Quigg a few percentage points.
The score has been evened in terms of career knockdowns and performances against shared opponents, and Quigg has silenced critics of his alleged lack of power and the dearth of world class operators or big punchers on his record. Beating an elite fighter so emphatically also reduces the impact of charges that his Regular WBA belt is not a true world title.
What hasn’t changed is that Carl Frampton is still by far the biggest draw for fans. In fact, he will have added plenty more from the notoriously blood-thirsty American boxing audience that enjoyed the action on the free-to-air CBS channel, and casual domestic fans who tuned into ITV in the UK.
His promoters, Cyclone Promotions, appear focused on the terrestrial TV model now, in contrast to Quigg’s deal with Sky Sports and Hearn’s belief that Pay-Per-View is the only way for top fighters to earn top dollar, and recently signing with the current boxing puppet-master, Al Haymon, will help secure dates and opponents in the US.
With Guillermo Rigondeaux, Leo Santa Cruz and Nonito Donaire (who also won yesterday) out there, Frampton and his team are adamant they don’t need Scott Quigg. And should the IBF champ be forced to move up a division to accommodate his stocky frame, the likes of Abner Mares, Vasyl Lomachencko and Gary Russell Jr. can also be added to the wish list.
Crucially, however, Frampton finds it hard to disguise the fact that he would love to fight Quigg and the feeling is clearly mutual. Boxing is a business before it is a sport, and a perfidious one at that, but the romantic in me says that the two men’s genuine desire to end the conversation in the ring will win through.
McGuigan and Hearn can make it happen and, urged on by their boxers and the British and Irish fight fans, they surely will. Just not, I imagine, until both men are bloodied and bruised by 12 savage rounds at the negotiating table over the coming months.