THE telephone man says they’ll be along any minute. He’s waiting in line too. Not to talk to Carl Frampton, just to get into the building. There’s a roll of cable outside the gym and he needs to fix a connection. He tries the door again but the handle won’t budge. There’s no sign of anyone coming down from Parkgate Street, the only thing of note is two banged-up Morris Minor cars and they look like they stopped going years ago.
The wind gusts sleet sideways into a roller-door big enough to drive a bus through.
The telephone man looks out again and grimaces with impatience and cold… it’s a feet-stamping-woolly-hat of a day in Battersea, down by the River Thames, beside the Doodlebar.
This afternoon Frampton has a scheduled sparring session behind that roll of cable, on the other side of the door in Shane McGuigan’s gym.
The Belfast super-bantamweight has spent much of the last 10 weeks in this industrial corner of London, hammering out round after round, getting through his work with the kind of impatience that now awaits his arrival.
But in a few days he will be released, removed from the seclusion of this riverside unit and stood under the bright lights of the Odyssey Arena in Belfast.
AND NOWWW… IN THE BLUE CORNER… with a PROFESSIONAL BOXING record of 15 wins and no defeats…
From TIGER’S BAY in BELFAST…
CARL… THE JACKALLLLL… FRAMTONNNNNNnnnnnnn…
Rolling his shoulders and prowling the opposite corner will be Kiko Martinez, La Sencation, famous for his first round demolition of Bernard Dunne in Dublin’s O2 Arena in 2007.
He is based State-side and managed by namesake and WBC middleweight champion, Sergio.
There will be nerves. Nothing fixes your focus like the spotlight that shines when you fight in your home town.
But that’s when you rise to meet the occasion and Frampton has been waiting.
This fight has been fixed before, twice. But Martinez has pulled a no-show… twice.
You could say there’s history and on this day it’s definitely of the cold war variety.
Suddenly, Frampton and Shane McGuigan appear around the corner, light of foot on this heavy day.
Frampton is dressed warm for the weather. Compact in stature, his smile is as wide as the doorway.
Shane McGuigan apologises for being late. London traffic! Made worse by the weather! You know yourself!
He turns the key in the door and everyone piles in, Frampton with his gear-bag, the telephone man with his roll of cable, the photographer with his camera.
Minutes later, Barry McGuigan, the manager, follows.
Once inside, Frampton explains that the planned session with his original sparring partner has fallen through.
“But we’ve found a replacement, a good one.”
“We’d ask that you keep his name under wraps though,” says McGuigan senior. “It’s only a little thing but we don’t want to be giving the Martinez camp any advantage. None whatsoever…”
Frampton starts to get changed. He folds his clothes neatly and places jeans atop runners on the floor beside the ring apron, then begins his warm-up.
“CARL,” Shane McGuigan calls from the raised platform at the entrance to the gym.
“WE’RE GOING TO SPAR FIRST AND THEN DO PAD-WORK AFTERWARDS.”
“OK…” replies Frampton, slipping and shadow boxing in the mirror.
“WHY?!” he follows curiously.
“WE CAN FINISH WITH A TOUGHER WORKOUT ON THE PADS.”
“NO PROBLEM SHANE.”
It’s May 2007 and Carl Frampton is training in the Midland White City club in Belfast. He first walked through the door at the age of nine and the relationship with coach Billy McKee is as good as blood. (“Billy was always down in Dublin fighting my corner.”)
The featherweight is a prospect but the competition in Ireland is fierce — in less than two weeks the EU Championships will glove-off in Dublin’s National Stadium, but Frampton isn’t even in the frame.
Athy’s David Oliver Joyce is the incumbent at 57kgs having won the national seniors four months previous. He has never been beaten in the domestic competition in the stadium and is expected to finish high on the podium.
But then boxing’s tightrope gifts Frampton an unexpected opportunity. Joyce suffers an injury and the Tiger’s Bay man gets a late call-up.
Within days he is training in Dublin with a team of rising stars.
Kenneth Egan, Darren Sutherland, John Joe Joyce, Paddy Barnes… now Frampton is on the ascent too.
He powers through the preliminaries to set up a final meeting with Khedafi Djelkhir from France, among the best in Europe pound-for-pound.
Their scrap is a screamer. One of the bouts of the tournament, but Frampton tires in the last round and the experienced Frenchman sprints clear to the finish. (“He was just a bit fitter than me to be honest.”)
The next day a group medal-winning picture with Frampton [silver], Kenneth Egan, Darren Sutherland, Roy Sheehan [all gold] and Cathal McMonigle [silver] appears in the Sunday newspapers.
Their success is celebrated as a turning point in Irish boxing and Barry McGuigan is among the thousands of interested readers. The day before the Clones man was just a curious spectator but even then a cyclone was building.
McGuigan liked what he saw: bravery, fast hands and feet — Carl Frampton could box going forward and off the back foot.
So he lifted the phone and dialled his number.
“I had won the Irish senior title and a couple of multi-nations but I wasn’t getting the same breaks as some of the other guys in the High Performance Unit,” says the boxer, stretching in the ring.
“It was nothing to do with funding issues, it was the waiting. You can win the All-Ireland in February and a couple of multi-nations but then you have to wait until the year is out for the IABA to reassess if you are going to get money.
“I was there for 10 months just trying to survive, having to get loans, basically living off my girlfriend and my mam and dad helped me out as well.
“So when Barry approached me I didn’t have to think that hard about it to be honest.”
His gloves snap a blur of combinations: PAP-PAP-PAP-PAP-PAP SMACK! PAP-PAP-PAP-PAP-PAP SMACK!
Shane McGuigan leans over the ring ropes watching Carl Frampton complete round number God-knows-what of his 10-week camp.
The boxer’s t-shirt is a patchwork of sweat marks but his movement remains composed against a determined opponent.
On the raised platform away to the left of the ring, Barry McGuigan rolls with every punch and subtly slips every counter-punch.
Suddenly the door of the gym bursts open — it’s the telephone man. “JUST ABOUT DONE!”
The former WBO World Champion doesn’t flinch.
His eyes remain fixed on the prize.
When Frampton is in camp he stays at the McGuigan family home in Kent. Shane is his coach, sure, but over the last two years they have become close friends.
The relationship with McGuigan senior is tight too and when the sparring is finished McGuigan junior ribs his father. “Sure Carl is another son too,” he announces playfully.
Frampton laughs and starts to warm-down.
“I’m the only fighter he has under his wing,” he says pointing across to Shane. “He trains with me, does the weights with me and the runs. Can’t beat me in the sprints though,” he laughs.
“But it’s nice to have that. You are not so lonely.”
When he goes back to Belfast, Frampton tips down to Gerry Storey in the Holy Family Club, another Billy McKee-like pillar who was there before birthdays hit double figures.
“But it’s better to train over here,” he continues. “The bulk of the work is done here. Shane is one of the best coaches in the country.”
In this gym, reminders of the best are obvious because they are so few.
High on a wall painted white, Mike Tyson has signed his name in black marker, so too Sugar Ray Leonard and Joe Calzaghe.
Higher up, a framed action shot of Robert Duran guards the ring, another subtle reminder of greatness. Old ‘Hands of Stone’ — he was Spanish speaking too, one of the best of all times and one of the biggest punchers.
They say Martinez can punch, La Sencation, the Spanish Bull who KO’d Dunne in spectacular fashion…
“That win flattered him,” says Frampton coolly. He pauses. “It massively flattered him.
“He’s a good fighter, he’s definitely dangerous and will definitely be the hardest puncher I’ve shared a ring with. But I know for a fact he hasn’t shared a ring with anyone that can punch as hard as me, who has had as big a heart as me, who wants to get to the top as much as I do. It’s going to be a dangerous fight.”
Barry McGuigan wanders over…
“He [Bernard Dunne] didn’t respect Kiko. We respect him. Carl has been in camp the last nine weeks because he respects him and he wouldn’t put the effort in unless he had the height of respect for him.”
“I want to beat this guy,” Frampton continues. “I was meant to fight him in what would have been my 11th fight and he pulled out twice. He’s not going to pull out now because he’d never be taken seriously in boxing again. For everyone who has bought tickets before, for all the training camps, all the time I’ve had to spend away from my family. If you count it all up, it’s probably close to 30 weeks.
“I want to give this guy the worst beating he has ever had in the ring.”
To that end he has given the best of himself, in this camp, in every camp. His singular determination is something of a calling card. So too the thorough nature of his preparation.
“SHANE!” he calls from a seated position on the ring canvas. “What’s the name of the system? You know, the 12 sites… yeah… over the body and your body fat is measured, externally, that one?”
“His external body fat is below three per cent!” says Barry chiming in. “You can’t measure visceral fat, which is around your heart and lungs and internal organs. Under normal circumstances it would be impossible to do sub-five per cent, but that is what his body fat is down to externally, 2.5 per cent.
“He’s the most disciplined eater I have ever seen in any fighter. I’ve seen fighters as talented as him but not as disciplined, especially when it comes to eating.”
Carl adds: “I think boxing is a sport full of dinosaurs and to get better you have to change over time. We’re doing it now with Shane and Barry. Shane is very scientific with what he does.”
He will be 26 in a few weeks. It’s not old by any measure but he has enough rounds done to know the importance of the 12 he faces on Saturday night — if it gets that far.
Most don’t expect it to. He expects to win. Ahead of these fights you lean on your sacrifices as well as your talent. He has a little girl at home — Carla — and hasn’t seen her as much as he’d like lately. But she’s always there, central to the bigger picture — the future of what he’s doing now.
Martinez is there too. For too long he’s been there, in the way, and his camp know the Spanish Bull is not going to give way easily.
It’s a fight. He’s not arrogant enough to think that every punch he throws will land, that every counter will connect, but someone is going to lose and he can’t afford it to be him.
He doesn’t believe that to challenge for a world title you need an unblemished record. He wants those big fights, and is ready to do what it takes to get there.
Martinez isn’t of the same standard as fighters like Nonito Donaire or Guillermo Rigondeax but he’s building to that level — he’s been hammering out round after round.
Belfast on the night of a big fight! He remembers watching Wayne McCullough way back when, and now they’re starting to watch him. That’s pressure, but he heaps even more on himself. It sharpens your focus, but those slow hours before the fight you feel it, a brooding companion when you are alone in your hotel room and it seems like city expectations are rolling in from the window.
It’s like that for a while. But it feels good. Better when the ring-walk starts, when you zip up your gear-bag and close the hotel door behind you. When you know that after all the waiting and wasting and wondering, that the fight is going to come along soon — 12 rounds maybe, on the road to greater glory… the Odyssey, Belfast, the arena pulsing… the recognition… a performance to catch their attention and that of the busy telephone engineer, who finally slowed and then stopped to look into the ring…
Even he could see there was something about…
CARL… THE JACKALLLLL… FRAMTONNNNNNnnnnnnn…