Carl Frampton comes through a hellacious battle with Horacio Garcia with a unanimous decision win, to set his career back on track towards world championship honours.
The SSE arena in Belfast trembled on Saturday night, as the roar of the ten thousand capacity crowd carried a classy but exhausted Carl Frampton to a unanimous decision win. There were moments however when the crowd itself must have trembled, as the hometown hero sweated and gasped out ten month’s worth of ring rust in the face of the marauding Mexican, Horacio ‘El Violento’ Garcia.
Frampton was topping a bill of tremendous fights; several of them involving close friends. But opening the evening’s entertainment, in an unfortunately inauspicious spot at the bottom of the bill, was WBO World Bantamweight Champion, Zolani Tete, coming up against fellow South African Siboniso Gonya. During the press conference in Belfast’s Clayton hotel, a soft-spoken Tete stated that he would stop his opponent in four rounds. He was kind enough to invite Gonya to retire after two if the challenger felt he had had enough. A four-round KO would appear a grandiose claim for most fighters. Not so Zolani Tete. As it turns out he was being very generous to his opponent in his prediction. Tete produced what surely must be the knockout of the year, in a performance so startling, this writer had failed to complete any notes on the fight before it was over.
(Pictured: The Author's professional assessment of Tete vs. Gonya)
The fastest knockout in world championship history, Tete landed a lightning lead right hook that snapped Gonya’s head around. The punch landed at six seconds, the fight was waved off at eleven. Gonya was out cold and remained on the canvas under the watchful eye of the emergency team along with Zolani Tete, who kept his celebrations in check until his opponent was upright on his stool.
Speaking after the fight, Tete thanked his trainers for endowing him with the strength to defeat his opponent and expressed his desire to unify the division. Frank Warren was on hand to elaborate on the humble South African:
“The reason we’re in Belfast is for [IBF World Champion] Ryan Burnett,” Warren said. “He’ll fight him in his own front room… He’s the best, Ryan Burnett thinks he’s the best.”
Tete’s performance will do one of two things; it will make him the man every bantamweight calls out when they want to make a name for themselves, or it will make him the man whose name is only spoken in hushed tones behind closed managerial-meeting doors. Let us hope for the former.
Belfast’s Paddy Barnes was next up, fighting for the vacant WBO Intercontinental Championship, against Nicaraguan Eliecer Quezada. The first scoring blow of the fight was a straight right by Barnes to Quezada’s stomach. The Irishman pivoted in the centre of the ring while Quezada circled unpredictably, launching in and out. From the opening round, Barnes was sharp and accurate, his fast feet and accurate punches negating his opponent’s height and reach advantage. From the second round on, Barnes’ transition from amateur to professional seemed complete, as he twisted his hips violently into his hooks, and with a tremendous right hand to the body, dropped his opponent. Barnes won every round of the fight, hurting Quezada regularly, with the game Nicaraguan firing back just often enough to keep the referee from intervening. Barnes was warned for low blows in the fifth but continued to catch or evade his opponents punches, before ending the fight with a beautiful combination. A right uppercut followed by two left hooks to the head and body put Quezada on the floor, unable to rise. Barnes, whose power has been questioned in the past, answered a lot of questions and put a lot of doubts to rest. From this performance, he should earn a top ten WBO ranking, and deservedly. His manager Frank Warren has stated that by the end of next year he’ll be challenging for a world title.
“I’m sprinting to the shower, and straight out to see Jamie,” said Paddy Barnes, speaking of his close friend, Belfast fan-favourite Jamie Conlan. After a harrowing succession of wars within the ring, Conlan was finally getting his shot a world title. All that stood in his way was the IBF Super-Flyweight World Champion, Jerwin Ancajas. Conlan was the heavy underdog, but he looked focused and eager as he walked into the ring. Ancajas came out to AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’, smiling ear to ear as the boos cascaded down. This writer picked Conlan to win, and in the first few exchanges, Conlan looked relaxed, feinting and twitching incessantly and countering well. Other than a brief spell in the fifth round, this would be his last notable success of the night. Ancajas looked strong and fast, if not quite adjusted to the Irishman’s defence. Then, bizarrely, Conlan took a knee, his face screwed up in anger and pain. Whether a twisted knee, a cramp, or the after-effects of an unseen body shot, Ancajas took confidence from seeing his opponent on the canvas and stepped up the pace. In the second, Ancajas seemed to have adjusted to Conlan’s countering tactics with frightening quickness and began swinging fearsome right hooks. Conlan continued to fight and had some success with his counter left, but the fight quickly became a display of Ancajas’s power versus Conlan’s bravery. Conlan was dropped several times by body blows, and low blows (for which Ancajas was deducted a point). When the referee stopped the fight in the sixth, it was with a heavy heart that this writer breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe those of us who picked Conlan to win was thinking more with their heart than their head, but with a gutsy, gritty fighter like Conlan who can blame them? Ancajas looked levels above on the night, and may even have earned a few reluctant Belfast fans with his tremendous performance.
Pre-fight, the Belfast men expressed their excitement at sharing a bill together, but Conlan’s devastating loss suddenly presented a flipside of this camaraderie; the possibility that Frampton’s mindset could be affected by his friend’s defeat. As the crowd bellowed, the ring announcers gave up trying to yell over the tumult. Frampton entered the ring calm and focussed, Garcia looking strong and ready on the other side. It’s hard to imagine the pressure. Coming off a loss, ten months out of the ring, a new trainer, new team, and a hopeful crowd at his back. And in front of him, a tough-as-nails Mexican, dubbed ‘El Violento’. Is it possible for a crowd to roar and hold its breath at the same time?
He’d never looked better. For the first three rounds, Frampton was once again, the greatest featherweight on the planet. Moving fluidly, Frampton seemed to gauge his range immediately. Strong jabs snapped Garcia’s head back, while Frampton’s upper body movement kept him safe. In the second and third, Garcia was flinching at Frampton’s feints. He was demonstrating a solid chin, but Frampton’s power was evident in his opponent’s hesitancy. The Irishman stared at him, questioning him with his gaze. Then the cobwebs of the previous ten months began to tangle up the ex-champion. Garcia grew in confidence as Frampton seemed to tire. The boxing skill was clearly Frampton’s, but Garcia was relentless, trapping Frampton on the ropes and throwing to body and head. Frampton won the fifth with his jab, firing it to the body to set up a right to the head, but Garcia was now hurting the hometown fighter to the body and beginning to win rounds. In the seventh, Frampton slipped and was caught with a glancing blow as he fell. It was counted a knockdown. Frampton was now under pressure, but breathing hard, while Garcia continued to pile forward, seemingly dealing better with the pace and damage absorbed. Toe to toe action ensued, until the final round, Frampton dragging energy from somewhere unknown to outbox his opponent as the fight came to a close.
Frampton’s celebrations were subdued as the scores were announced; 98-93, 97-93 and 96-93. The cards were wide, (this writer had it 96-94 for Frampton, with a 10-8 round scored as a result of the ‘knockdown’), but the crowd had seen enough to respect Garcia and lift their voices for the beaten man. Respect also reigned within the ring; The two fighters applauded each other, and Canelo Alvarez, surely hoarse from screaming relentless encouragement at his stablemate, embraced Frampton and posed for pictures.
“Everyone will have enjoyed that, more than me anyway,” quipped Frampton. “That’s got the rust off, the cobwebs are gone and now I want one of the big boys.”
It wasn’t easy, but Frampton has returned and remains one of the most exciting for fighters to watch. He has skill, power and a dedicated fanbase. But what makes him really mesmerising, is his willingness to take risks, to appear vulnerable and to triumph time after time.4 min