(Carl Frampton, left, stares down Kiko Martinez)
Twenty eight years ago this month, Irish folk hero Barry McGuigan, a boxer who, once beneath the ring lights, could unite a city at war with itself, punched out his world title credentials against Puerto Rican-born Brooklynite Juan Laporte. “The Clones Cyclone”, 24-1 heading in (the controversial loss came against Peter Eubank in McGuigan’s third contest and was promptly redressed), had collected British and European titles as a featherweight but had still to convince some of his true merit. After a bruising ten round examination at the Kings Hall in Belfast, any lingering doubts about wee Barry’s ability to take a crack from a world class operator were curtailed and within a matter of months an emboldened McGuigan had deposed the Panamanian world champion Eusebio Pedroza in London.
McGuigan’s protégé, junior featherweight Carl Frampton, has a fight on his hands Saturday evening at Belfast’s Odyssey Arena, only a short amble from the patch he was raised, the Tiger’s Bay area of the capital. The Ulsterman, one of the more well regarded prospects in the sport, faces trial by ordeal against Spaniard Kiko Martinez. And while the visitor, who champions the European title at 122 lbs., cannot realistically be compared to Laporte as a fighter, he could provide an analogous test to the one Laporte afforded McGuigan.
Martinez, Alicante, Spain, 27-3 (19 KO), has less than a year on the challenger yet has completed considerably more hard yards as a professional fighter. Squat, strong, aggressive and driven, the 26 year-old powerhouse has schemed to play Frampton like a queue jumping ticket into the VIP area he has high hopes of crashing. He arrived in Belfast this week in bullish mood after a training camp that has traversed Oxnard, California and Madrid.
Since easing past Tyneside’s Dougie “The Bullet” Curran last summer, Martinez has shaken hands on a managerial contract with his namesake and current middleweight grand poobah Sergio and “Maravilla”, as the Argentinean Martinez is known, has opined that his man will derail the home fighter inside schedule. It’s a trick that Kiko has turned before.
Martinez has won four times on Irish soil. His most impressive raid occurred in 2007 against unbeaten Dubliner Bernard Dunne. “La Sensacion” cold-cocked Dunne, a rising star, in the opening half minute, tossing him around the ring like a Pamplona encierro (that included trips to the canvas on three separate occasions) to round out a devastating 86 second rout. Larne’s former world flyweight champion Dave “Boy” McAuley called the action from ringside, yet it’s doubtful that Martinez can upset the applecart this time around.
“He’s a hard puncher but you have to analyse the calibre of opponent that he’s fought,” McAuley advised TQBR Thursday. “He’s never fought anybody of world class apart from Dunne and he caught him cold. He is a hard puncher but when you get to world title level, you have to be an extremely hard puncher to knock guys out. When you’re fighting world class fighters and you hit them hard, they’ll stand there and look at you and hit you twice as hard back. There’s no doubt he can punch but his punching power may not be as explosive as his record suggests.”
Frampton (15-0, 10 KO) appears unmoved by his opponent’s momentum. Groomed under McGuigan, one of the more erudite eyes in a racket teeming with blind folk, he holds the indissoluble belief in his own abilities that only an unbeaten fighter can. He has declined to entertain Kiko’s overtures in the build up, repeated invites to dispense with his craft and match machismo instead. It requires a secure fighter to pass up this type of bait; one assured that the last laugh can provide recompense for turning the other cheek.
Frampton uses his lead left hand like a divining rod, gauging his range in order to thump home accurate hooks and uppercuts that are picked with an unswerving aim. Swift on his feet, he closes the range on a man adroitly after ramming him into reverse behind his jab yet stands accused on occasion of holding his mitts a tad low as he homes in on his prey. His defences will need to be tighter against the champion, who’ll be hurling grenades from the opening bell.
Martinez, a 10/3 underdog, hunts from a crouch, churning out hooks that land with the sudden impact of a familial death. He’ll be a real peril early but as Leicester’s Rendall Munroe showed in a brace of European title victories over the Spaniard, if an opponent can weather his initial charge he can be outworked down the stretch, a strategy not lost on McAuley.
“I think Frampton is a smart guy and he’s being trained by pretty knowledgeable people in the McGuigans,” he explained. “If he was my man – and I know Frampton likes to have a dust up – but my advice would be for the first five or six rounds, stay out of danger, hit the guy often and hit him hard but don’t get involved; don’t be standing too long in the one spot making yourself a target. I think he has a real good chance of stopping this guy in the latter rounds.”
Martinez’s demeanour this week suggests a career best performance could be within reach. Unfortunately for him, Frampton has the aura of a special talent about him, so it may not be enough. Frampton should be able to chip away at his man in the early running and, as Martinez’s effectiveness drains with each passing round, come on strong over the bout’s final third. It could be a perfect test coming at just the right time.
“It’s the sort of fight that he needs,” McAuley suggested. “It gives everybody an idea of where he might be going but it’s not going to give you the full picture. You have to be able to beat these guys, not with relative ease, but you have to shine. This is a good stepping stone for Frampton to show the difference between a good fighter and a world class fighter. Martinez is a good, tough opponent, his hardest fight to date, so he’ll have to be on his guard, but I think Frampton has the measure of him.”
That sounds about right. Providing he keeps his wits about him, “The Jackal” should be able to tally a late stoppage or, failing that, a clear points verdict in a contest that looks certain to excite.
A fascinating battle takes place on the undercard as another Belfast boy, Martin Lindsay, attempts to regain the British featherweight championship that was ripped away from him by the Scot John Simpson in 2010. Greenock’s Simpson subsequently went down to Liverpool’s Stephen “Swifty” Smith in a pair of frenetic, nip and tuck affairs fought either side of the border before Welshman Lee Selby came out of the shadows to decimate the pair of them. Now, it is Lindsay’s turn to face the Barry axe man.
Selby (13-1, 5 KO) is a hyper confident gamecock and in that regard the tribute to Errol Flynn he sports across his top lip is a fitting affectation. Lindsay (20-1, 7 KO) is a more methodical, tidy boxer that works from behind a high and tight guard. A 3/1 short-ender, Lindsay will need to produce the sort of form that allowed him to halt Liverpool’s Derry Matthews and South Queensferry’s Paul Appleby in back-to-back scraps in order to cheer the bookmakers.
Selby, in rude form, is hard to oppose, in spite of the fact he has yielded the home advantage. Another stoppage here could well steal him the limelight.