Tonight, Carl Frampton will attempt to etch his name into the history books by becoming the first three-weight world champion from the island of Ireland when he challenges Jamel Herring for the WBO super-featherweight title at Caesars Palace, Dubai.
To do so, Frampton (28-2, 16 KOs) will have to overcome a 130lbs physical anomaly in the form of Herring. The 2012 London Olympian stands at 5’10” and his reach is seven inches longer than ‘The Jackal’s.’ Despite the advantages the champion holds over the challenger, the bookmakers are struggling to split them with Betfred pricing the American at 5/6, while Frampton is available at 21/20.
At the peak of his powers, Frampton’s natural ability would likely have seen him go into the bout as the clear favourite, regardless of the discrepancies between their respective frames. However, at 34, questions remain regarding the Belfast man’s ability to still compete at world level.
Frampton acknowledges that he is in the twilight of his career but remains adamant that he is more than capable of adding the super-featherweight strap to the belts he captured at super-bantamweight and featherweight.
For Frampton, the key to negating the effects of the aging process has been adaptation. He is acutely aware that he can no longer exert himself in the gym as he did four or five years previous and expect to recover as quickly. Frampton has exchanged training harder in favour of training smarter. He believes this will pay dividends against Herring.
“The main adjustment really is the intensity of my training,” Frampton told Boxing Social. “The first part of my career, everything was balls to the wall, every session was hard; sparring eight or 10 rounds, then having a couple of hours off, then doing a fucking serious circuit where your lungs are coming out of your chest. I don’t need to do that anymore.”
Perhaps the biggest change for ‘The Jackal’ has been in sparring. Despite the travel restrictions put in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Frampton has been able to secure sufficient sparring with tall southpaws. He has been fortunate that he had two fighters in the gym who fitted the bill: WBO super-lightweight mandatory challenger, Jack Catterall and, switcher-hitter, Aqib Fiaz. British super-featherweight champion Anthony Cacace and another 130-pounder Alex Dilmaghani have also assisted with Frampton’s preparations.
In his younger years, Frampton would have treated each spar as a competitive fight, willing to stand his ground and exchange vicious shots. While the competitive fire still burns, Frampton now eschews these battles in favour of more technical work. The change in ethos is as motivated by personal benefits as it is by professional ones. For many years, Frampton has been determined not to become the latest tragic tale of a boxer that fought on too long and was left with impaired cognitive abilities. However, he is also mindful of the impact sparring can have on his faculties.
“I’ve really restricted the rounds I’ve been sparring,” he said. “At times, I was getting up to 220 rounds of sparring, which is insane, and I was sparring with big guys as well. It’s a stupid amount of rounds and you take a lot of punishment in sparring at times. For the [Scott] Quigg fight, my chief sparring partner was Gary fucking Corcoran and he ended up fighting at light-middle, he was a welterweight really, but a big welterweight. It was just stupid things like that I was doing. Now, I’ve reduced the number of rounds I’m sparring, I don’t spar too far out of my weight division. I [sparred] Jack Catterall, but it’s not open sparring with Jack because he’s so much bigger than me.
“I was always having these gym wars as well, not really working on anything, just trying to fucking knock someone out and it doesn’t make sense when you are trying to improve yourself. Things have changed a lot. A lot of it is to do with longevity, too. A lot of it is to do with health and the health of my brain after boxing. I want to live a very long life after this game, so I don’t want to be fucking forgetting the kid’s names or anything like that, or not remembering my own name in 10 or 20 years down the line. It’s something I’ve been more conscious of as I’ve got older.”
Such considerations were at the forefront of Frampton’s mind immediately after his unsuccessful challenge for the IBF featherweight title against Josh Warrington in 2018. The Belfast man immediately decided to hang up his gloves. After the bitter anguish of disappointment had subsided, to an extent at least, Frampton ultimately reversed his decision. Among those Frampton spoke to when contemplating his options was his trainer, Jamie Moore. The Mancunian had a highly successful career in the 2000s, winning the British and European super-welterweight titles, although a world title opportunity always eluded him.
Moore carved out a reputation as a fan favourite by participating in several fight of the year contenders. As such, when Moore asked Frampton to bite down on his gumshield following nine torrid minutes against Warrington, the fighter obliged knowing his trainer had found himself in similar circumstances before.
If Moore needs his charge to act similarly tonight, Frampton will do what is required, such is his reverence for the trainer.
“There was a comment he made in the corner, he said: ‘I’m not asking you to do something I’ve never done before,’” he recalled. “When someone says that to you, you can listen to them a bit more and take heed of it. I done that, I dug in and won a few rounds in the middle and made the fight more competitive than it was for the first three rounds. I think to stay in there was a credit to my fitness and preparation because it took a lot to stay in there. It was a bad night, and it’s still one that annoys me.”
In some ways, Moore was a leftfield pick to replace Shane McGuigan as Frampton’s trainer. McGuigan and ‘The Jackal’ had an extremely fruitful partnership that saw the fighter unify two belts at super-bantamweight and defeat Leo Santa Cruz for the WBA featherweight title. Many established coaches were rumoured to be under consideration but ultimately, Frampton opted for, the somewhat untested, Moore.
While the pair are yet to replicate the highs achieved under McGuigan, Frampton is a happier fighter.
“We are all similar people, people from similar backgrounds to me,” he said of his training team and gym-mates. “When I was in London, it wasn’t me, really. I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. We’ve got no dickheads in the gym; they wouldn’t be allowed. We had one dickhead in the gym before and he was told: ‘That’s enough, go away,’ so it’s just a gym full of good people and good craic. We all train hard, and we all have the same beliefs.”
If Frampton is successful tonight, he hopes to surround himself with more good people later this year to celebrate his feat, once the pandemic restrictions have been lifted. Images of Frampton drinking with his travelling supporters in a New York bar following his victory against Leo Santa Cruz in their first bout have become iconic. Such scenes will likely be recreated in Belfast during the summer, but with one notable differences: Frampton will not have a pint in his hand.
It has been two or three years since the Tiger’s Bay man gave up alcohol, in part to prolong his career, but he is also honest enough to admit that intoxication rarely brought out the best in his character.
“That should be a good one, but I’ve knocked the boozing on the head, I don’t mind everyone else having a piss up,” he said with a laugh. “It’ll be a party somewhere. I’m getting older and fucking can’t deal with hangovers and I’m a dickhead when I’m on the drink as well. I’m not aggressive or anything, I just do stupid things and, in this day, and age with fucking social media, it wouldn’t be long before you are all over the place with your arse out or something. I’m just a balloon on the drink, a showoff really, so I’d rather stay off it.”
At a time when everyone is armed with a smart phone and an internet connection, Frampton’s caution is wise, particularly given that he would like to pursue a career in media when he hangs up the gloves. Frampton has appeared as part of the broadcast team on BT Sport on several occasions and would like to explore such avenues in the coming years. However, one thing is for certain, he has no interest in remain within the sport in any other capacity.
“Me and Chris Lloyd have this Inside Fighting thing that’s ongoing at the minute,” he said of his future plans. “They’ve been looking behind the scenes in my preparations for this camp. We are hoping to get the podcast going like what we done with Joe, we are hoping to have a Inside Fighting podcast, and we’ll get that off the ground at some point very soon. We had decent feedback when we did that before. I get good feedback when I do the punditry as well, so I’d love to do more of that with BT, Sky, Five Live, whoever. That sort of thing interests me, but not training or managing fighters or anything like that. It doesn’t appeal to me, right now.”
While he has considered life after boxing, Frampton is in no hurry to retire just yet. Defeat to Herring would likely bring down the curtain on his illustrious career, but ‘The Jackal’ believes that will simply not be the case. Older, but wiser, he believes he can cement his legacy among the greatest Irish fighters of all-time.
“This will be my best win,” he said. “I can still perform, and I know I’m still world class. I can beat Jamel Herring, I know it.”
Main image and all photos: D4G Promotions.