By Paul Gibson
If the temperature rose under the mock crystal chandeliers of the Europa Hotel’s Grand Ballroom at Friday’s weigh-in, the mercury surged north and burst free in the Odyssey Arena last night as super bantamweight champion of the world, Carl Frampton, destroyed his mandatory challenger, Chris Avalos, in thirteen and half raucous minutes.
The Europa, as I’m sure you are all by now well-versed, is the most bombed hotel on God’s green earth. It’s a dubious accolade that Belfast natives take a macabre pride in telling every out-of-towner that wonders into the vicinity of the defiant twelve-floor building.
Today, thankfully, the biggest risk upon entering through the revolving front door is being caught in the crossfire as a moist, freshly-chewed ball of gum is launched from a visiting fighter’s mother towards her son’s opponent.
While the ever-polished Michael Buffer looked on aghast, the contrast of his class with Señora Avalos’s distinct lack of it was more jarring than any of Team Avalos’s unsuccessful attempts to rile the local hero.
Buffer, and the quite bizarre way his presence adds gravitas to any occasion, was a very welcome addition to proceedings in Northern Ireland this weekend. The man has made hundreds of millions of dollars from his trademarked, Let’s Get Ready to Rumble cry and, while on the face of it faintly ridiculous, it is impossible to listen to his famous clarion call in person and not be suddenly convinced that he deserves every cent.
In truth, as he went about his business last night, the PA system struggled to compete with the 9,000 Frampton fans still giddy from belting out Sweet Caroline and Buffer’s firm but dulcet tones were largely drowned out by the boos that careered around the cauldron as he tried to introduce the challenger.
There may have been slightly more decorum when it came time to beckon the champion but, if so, we are talking fractions of decibels. Buffer looked a little like a man a long, long way from home: bemused and impressed in equal measure.
Frampton entered the ring looking as a champion should. Shane McGuigan prepares his charge to perfection so that he now appears in the optimum fighting state in which his levels of focus, tension and relaxation are in perfect balance. There was also a new name emblazoned on his blue shorts for this one as baby Rossa joined big sister Carla in making sure everyone knows who their daddy is.
In contrast, Avalos simply looked agitated. Bouncing around hyperactively, forcing smiles and spitting on the canvas, one local hack described him as being wired to the moon. Until this point, his ignorance towards the Jackal could have been forgiven as simply an authentic performance of the pantomime villain, but as he continued to mouth off and make a mockery of the symbolic touching of gloves, it began to look like he genuinely was that guy.
As if to prove to Avalos that his pre-fight antics had none of their desired success, Frampton began at a composed and genteel pace. He pawed out his left glove and allowed Avalos to do likewise in that playful way in which fighters confirm that the tale of the tape was accurate in terms of reach measurements.
It’s possible the American took some heart from his extra five and a half inches but Frampton has an embarrassment of riches to negate such whims of nature. Tonight it would be fast feet to skite him in and out of range and fast hands to counter any attacks that would break down his opponent.
Frampton’s sharper counters, particularly a brace of right crosses, probably won him the first but it was the proverbial three minute calm before the storm and a couple of Avalos cheap shots after the break was the major talking point as they took a stool for sixty seconds.
Sparks flew for real in the second stanza, however. Though they may not always admit after, fighters know in which areas they are out-gunned relatively quickly in a boxing match. Even in the arrogance of Chris Avalos’s mind, he must have already known he was up against it here. Frampton later described the American as a dirty fighter and jolting head movements in the clinches suggested the challenger was already considering less legitimate tactics to stay alive in this one.
Frampton, however, with silver spoon safely stored away in his old Tiger’s Bay flat, will never be bullied in a boxing ring. Coming out of a clinch he decided to hold on an extra second and apply just enough pressure to the joint of Avalos’s right arm for panic to register in the Californian’s eyes.
It was nothing that hasn’t been done in a million previous prize fights but the challenger thought he was entitled to a moan. Referee Howard Foster was unmoved and as Avalos turned his back Frampton was free to tip-toe in and land a left hook to his opponent’s unprotected face. Somewhere on the other side of the Atlantic, Victor Ortiz was shaking his head knowingly.
The crowd were on their feet as a momentarily wobbled Avalos reeled around the ring with Frampton in hot pursuit. Another big right crashed in and then the second act of a left-right play connected to maintain that buzzing sensation between the visitor’s ears. His abusive tongue was the only weapon genuinely firing back but not even Muhammad Ali won fights with words alone and Avalos was merely whistling on a very dark night.
The American continued to pepper the canvas floor with his spit in the third round but by now a visible cut inside the lip ensured any saliva had a distinctly scarlet hue. Trainer Shane McGuigan said in the post-fight press conference that he thought he was already looking for a way out by this stage. That may have been slightly over-stating it but certainly his eyes no longer had the look of a man who believed he could win the struggle he was currently engaged in.
Frampton’s focus now moved south for a period as thudding hooks to the body fully tested the integrity of his foe’s ribcage. Avalos believed he could make some hay on the inside but the compact and muscular Northern Irishman will be dictated to by no one at close quarters. I would wager that the challenger was not only spitting blood in the bathroom of his hotel suite as he licked his wounds last night.
At distance the challenger just looked too slow, too tentative and too weak to really trouble the champion. He landed a couple of hooks but took several more damaging blows in return. In one exchange a Mexican-American knee dipped as its leg buckled and the noise from the crowd rose in acknowledgement. The left hook, sweeping in behind a right lead, was beginning to look like the punch.
It was only the fourth but Avalos looked like he had done double that: but to his credit he made the round the most competitive of the fight as both landed upstairs. A left to the body from Frampton drew an audible gasp from the crowd before a similar right did likewise. At the death, perhaps in response to the late slaps in the first, Frampton landed a sharp left on the last L of the Bell.
The next bell we heard signalled the beginning of the end of the Californian’s world title tilt. Avalos began the fifth with a deep breath that was perilously close to a sigh of resignation.
A minute and thirty three seconds later and his oxygen intake was being artificially boosted as he sat slumped on his stool.
A big right that detonated on the jaw began the finale. On drunken pins, Avalos could do nothing but retreat until the ropes on his back prevented any further escape. He took a double fisted battering there before lolling across the canvas to the adjacent side like a tipsy sailor on deck in a swell. There he found no respite from the storm and took further punishment before lurching forward and down in exhaustion. The referee signalled no knockdown but it was all academic by now.
As everyone rose to their feet, Avalos struggled to maintain his. I was sat directly behind the American at this point, looking over his shoulder at the fury Frampton poured into the final assault. He urged Avalos to throw something so he could shift and reply with interest.
Rarely have I seen the Belfast fighter finish off his man with such viciousness and few will disagree that Howard Foster stepped in just in time.
Easy! Easy! chanted the locals. It isn’t but Carl certainly makes it look that way.
Birthday boy Barry McGuigan leapt about the ring like a man half his age before mouthing thank you to the four sides of the arena. Carl is the only one who deserves the thanks: we were all just privileged to be there.
An hour later in the press conference Frampton said he respected Avalos as a fighter but not as a man. “I wanted to teach him some manners,” was how he summed up the lesson he had just delivered. No post-fight embrace was witnessed so it remains to be seen whether Avalos will leave the Emerald Isle with even a little more grace than the mere modicum he expressed while here.
It was one of the most complete performances of Frampton’s stellar career to date. Although a little marked up afterwards, the damage was done largely from an American head and, regardless, Carl knew early on that Avalos did not have the speed, power or timing to truly hurt him.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of Frampton’s skill set is the power he generates behind the punches delivered with his weight on the back foot. Plenty of fighters can fight successfully on the back foot but very few can consistently hurt an opponent from that traditionally defensively-minded position.
So this story marches on with another glorious chapter complete. Homer’s Odyssey tells the epic tale of a man’s ten year struggle to return home to wife and child following the Trojan War. Frampton’s Odyssey has proven a more straight-forward affair thus far with six appearances at the venue and six wins inside the distance.
Scott Quigg may be next but today let’s just enjoy another special performance from one of the most gifted boxers in the world today.