LONG READ: Frampton’s former trainer lifts lid on his forgotten time with ‘The Jackal’
Who was Carl Frampton‘s first trainer in the pros?
Gerry Storey, right? Well, sort of.
It’s well known that the veteran Belfast coach was in the corner for Frampton’s first fifteen fights, however by his side for six of these was a Dubliner living in Lancashire by the name of Kevin Maree.
However, Maree was more than an assistant to Storey. Indeed, for these first six fights and for months before his professional debut, Frampton was essentially trained full time by the Gisburn-based coach who, back then, had what looked to be a burgeoning relationship with Barry McGuigan, the man who plucked ‘The Jackal’ from the Irish amateur scene.
Then in his early twenties, Frampton would base himself in North West England for camps under Maree’s tutelage until, suddenly, it stopped.
Fast-forward a year and McGuigan’s son Shane started featuring in the corner alongside Storey until that night in February 2013 when he took the reigns, aged 24, as Frampton knocked out Kiko Martínez to claim the European super bantamweight title.
The 2008 Ulster champion would become the youngest lead trainer of a world champion two years later as Frampton defeated Martínez in a rematch for the IBF belt – all the while Maree looked on thinking what could have been.
Frampton announced last week that he had split with manager Barry, and Shane would signal that their training relationship had also ended.
With the news now out there, Maree has detailed for Irish-Boxing.com the rise and fall of his role with ‘The Jackal’ and much, much more – giving an insider-turned-outsider view on the disintegration of the Frampton-McGuigan relationship.
Still based in Lancashire, Maree has since left behind training fighters to focus fully on the more stable pursuit of managing the Stirk House Hotel. He remains deeply involved in boxing, and also manages the career of Mark Heffron, a highly rated Oldham super middleweight of Kildare descent, trained by Ricky Hatton and recently signed to promoter Frank Warren.
Explaining how his link-up with Frampton began, Maree outlined how “Barry at the time had made the decision to manage and promote fighters. His first one was Kenny Anderson who he signed and put with me. The next one was Carl and he told me he needed help to transition him from amateur to professional. It was quite a decent time before he had his first pro fight.”
“To be honest, he didn’t need tweaking because he was an absolute world class super skilled lad anyway, it was more just getting him ready for the pro side of things, the rounds, longer fights, sparring with tougher professionals who are a bit heavier and more experienced than him.”
“Kenny and Carl were both living in the hotel [Stirk House]. It worked out well for them, the chef made all food for them, and they trained in the gym. As far as Barry was concerned, it was the perfect set-up. It was great, Carl enjoyed it there, it’s a lovely part of the world, and it was all going well. He was with us for the best part of a couple of years.”
Maree remembers his time with Frampton warmly and claims that he knew instantly the potential of the fresh-faced Belfast kid.
He recalled how “after I spent my first week with Carl Frampton, Barry rang me up and asked ‘what do you think? Because we’re going to invest a lot of money and look after him.'”
“I said ‘Baz, you have got, without a shadow of a doubt, a world champion. If he doesn’t win a world title I will never train another fighter again.'”
“You could just tell, he was just like a robot. You’d see a flaw that a lad has got and you’ll try iron it out, it’ll take a few sessions. With Carl, you’d say it once and then boom, he’d never do it again. He was programmed, he was awesome, you’d be doing pads with him and you’d be trying to find faults. He was so schooled.”
“Barry’s problem was trying to move him from amateur to professional, but he just had such a professional style. Amateurs don’t throw a lot of bodyshots, but Carl was strong, squat, set up beautiful bodyshots, set little traps. I said to Barry ‘this kid is special.’ I said it to everyone, ‘you have got to look out for this kid, he is unbelievable.'”
“I remember at the start, Barry screaming absolutely blue murder because Carl was on a few Matchroom cards and they never showed his highlights. It would be Friday Fight Night and, at the end of it, they would show a highlight reel but they’d never show Carl. Barry used to go mental saying ‘nobody knows how good this kid is.'”
Of course, as Frampton started making ripples in the pro boxing pond, attention turned to Gerry Storey, the veteran cornerman that had developed Olympians and world champions across decades. The situation suited the understated Maree who reveals that, before Shane McGuigan, it was he who was being lined up to take over the career of Frampton.
“Gerry was an absolutely great guy,” says Maree enthusiastically as Storey’s name is brought up. “He’s an absolute legend and I’m a young Irish trainer in the corner with him. I think he’s a legend in Irish boxing.”
“I got told, rightly or wrongly, that Gerry was about to retire from the professional boxing side of things and that’s why I was being brought in to spend time with Carl. For me, I thought we had the absolute best of both worlds – me and Gerry would do the corner, he was with Gerry when he was back home, and then he’d come and do his camps with me. That was the arrangement as I knew it at that point. I thought it worked perfect. I wish it continued, but it obviously didn’t.”
It certainly didn’t and, as plans began to form for Frampton’s first headline appearance, there were some not-so-subtle changes in camp. A relationship between Frampton and Shane McGuigan, two years his junior, had been building – as had Maree’s suspicions.
Detailing the breakdown of the arrangement, Maree remarked how “it happened overnight, I thought I would be the long-term trainer for all of Barry McGuigan’s fighters and that’s what I was led to believe. I’d been down to his [McGuigan’s] house, I really felt like I was going to be a long-term thing. I invested a lot of time into it.”
“But, I did see the end coming. I knew that Barry was setting up a gym in his house, and I thought that was kind of weird. If he was setting up a gym I knew he wouldn’t be sending him over to me at Stirk House.”
It all then came to a head when a young Shane McGuigan arrived at a Frampton sparring session in Manchester.
“To be honest, I didn’t know who he was,” recalled Maree. “Then he started talking during one of the rounds. I found out who he was and, obviously, I wasn’t going to have that as the trainer who’s with Carl all the time. So I phoned Barry up after it and said ‘listen, that can’t happen again. If any of your sons turn up to training they need to keep their mouths shut.'”
“I was spending a lot of time with Carl, working on things, and I couldn’t be having anybody else turning up and talking. I didn’t really realise that I was signing my own resignation letter there because, after that, things moved pretty fast from there and, before I knew it he was down there in London training.”
“I didn’t really speak to Barry about it again after that. It petered out.”
Looking back now, Maree understands the motives behind the move. He admits that “I didn’t see it coming, but I could see why, I’m not stupid – Carl was about to start earning mega money and to keep everything in house makes sense really. They had the gym, and I knew Barry wanted to be quite hands on, but Barry was down in London and I’m up in the North West – it wasn’t really going to work for him.”
“I saw them building the gym and I thought ‘I can see where this is going.’ Then the catalyst was when Shane showed up at training and started talking and I rang Barry and told him it was ridiculous and that I can’t have that. Things moved quickly after that. There was no falling out though, absolutely no falling out.”
In the years that followed, Frampton would claim Celtic, Commonwealth, and European honours before winning and unifying at super bantam and moving up to feather and becoming a two-weight champion.
A case of what could have been for Maree?
“One hundred percent, because I knew it was a no-brainer,” he replies.
“Carl was always going to be a world champion whether I trained him, Shane trained him, or the grandma trained him. Carl was always going to be a world champion, that’s a simple fact. You didn’t need to do much with Carl, you’d almost have to do a balls-up of a job to not get him to where he was meant to be. The kid’s pure class, he can bang, was a world class amateur, and he’s carried it through.”
“I found it hard to watch some of his fights afterwards. I did, because I still do think Carl’s a fantastic guy and McGuigan’s a fantastic guy, I didn’t fall out with any of them, at all, no bitterness about it. It’s just life and they did whatever’s best for their family, and that’s fine.”
“I remember one night, Carl was fighting for the world title in Belfast and I was with my journeyman cruiserweight driving a six-hour journey down to Torquay, getting stuck in traffic – and one of my mates text me reminding me of that fact! That hit home that night. It’s just boxing, it can change so quick.”
Indeed the Frampton experience proved to be one of the factors that pushed him out of training. While he would continue working in corners up until this year, training Irish fighters Michael Devine and Mark Heffron among others, Maree is no longer coaching.
Alongside the financial insecurity of training fighters, Maree admits that Frampton’s departure was “one of the reasons I got out, those little sickening things where you come so close – with Carl, with Kenny Anderson winning a British title then having to stop boxing because he failed a drugs test, with Yassine El Maachi winning Prizefighter then falling out of a tree, hurting his knee, and never being able to box again.”
“With me, I couldn’t have any gripes or concerns or bitterness because I had nothing. I had no contracts, I had no proper agreements, I had nothing, it just was what it was and that’s that. I thought it was going to happen and I still carried on training Carl even though I thought that it was going to happen. I kind of knew that he was going to be taken off me eventually, but I still stuck around, did what I wanted to do and I’ve got to take that on the chin.”
While the relationship had ended, Maree remained steadfast in his support for Frampton, even while there was another big star coming up in the area. Following the North Belfast man’s departure, a fight with Scott Quigg started to simmer.
With the Bury boxer only down the road, Maree inevitably came into contact with the former Gallagher’s Gym man – and rather than massaging egos or playing politics, he instead dished out some harsh truths.
Maree outlined how “I had Scott Quigg in my gym, he was sparring Marco Antonio Barrera, this was after Carl had left. Joe Gallagher was there, there were a lot of people there, and then someone asked me, in front of Joe and Scott, ‘right, you’ve seen Scott spar there, who wins? Quigg or Frampton?’ I was just dead honest, they asked me the question and I just said ‘sorry mate, Frampton, all day long.'”
“I think Scott Quigg’s fantastic, I think he’s a great kid, one of the nicest guys you’ll meet in boxing, but I’d say to anyone that Frampton was all-round far too schooled for Scott Quigg, it’s not even something I need to think about, Carl Frampton schools him. I knew when he [Quigg] fought him [Frampton] that he didn’t have a chance, it’s just not going to happen. I told him in the gym, he’d had a good spar with Barrera and I’d watched all his fights coming up as he was a good lad in the area, but I said to them all that Frampton wins.”
Maree took his split with Frampton with a sort of grim recognition. He remains a massive supporter of ‘The Jackal. and bears no hard feelings towards Barry McGuigan. Indeed Maree remained somewhat involved from the outside as Frampton’s ascent to titles continued. This new position however lead to the one issue that still stings Maree.
“People have said to me that I should have bitterness, but I don’t, I genuinely don’t. Barry, I’d still talk to him now,” stressed Maree ahead of revealing his one outstanding gripe.
Maree described how “Barry would call me up all the time about opponents, even when I wasn’t training Carl. I always thought I wont burn my bridges or blot my copy paper, so I was always dead nice and cordial, and I’d look up the opponents. When he fought Scott Quigg he was phoning me up a lot, asking me about Scott Quigg, what I knew, what I thought, loads of things, it’s in Manchester – and then he doesn’t even give you a ticket!”
“That’s a bit hard to take. I was never ever going to pay for a ticket, not in a million years, because that would be a sickener for me. He was asking a lot of questions in the lead-up to, I even said to him ‘if you need me, or you want me to come down and do the cuts for him,’ as I’m literally just around the corner. It would have been useful to have me there, I know everybody there, it’s my Area Board of Control. To have me there, it would have been quite useful, I know all the lads, and it would have made sense.”
“To not even offer me a ticket to come down and watch, that made me think ‘that’s a bit sore.’ That’s a bit wrong, I think I should have been invited to that fight. Don’t bother to ask my opinions and then don’t say ‘come down as my guest, mate, you’ve done a lot of work for us over the years.'”
“That was a bit awkward but, again, it is what it is. I don’t think he’s doing it in a bad way, it’s just how it is, you just get on with it. Business is business and that’s that, nothing personal. If he phoned me up again I’d still answer it.”
As Frampton ruled the world, Maree would worry that there were unsteady foundations in the corner. If nothing beats experience, then ‘The Jackal’ was vulnerable.
“My thoughts on Shane McGuigan, without speaking out of turn, he did the role too young,” states Maree.
“I did a corner once, I was training Michael Gomez for the Ricky Burns fight and someone at Sky TV said that me and Jeff Thomas, who was also in the corner that night, were the youngest corner team that have ever been in a title fight because we were both in our twenties.”
“It’s quite unheard of and, when I think back to then, I was training Michael Gomez and some other good fighters and I thought I knew everything. Nobody could tell me anything different. When I look back now, I didn’t have a freaking clue. I look back now at those title fights and think that I could have done so much more differently, in camp and in the fight. You can only get that through experience.”
“When Shane is a 25 year old lad and he’s being given someone who’s pretty much the finished product in Carl Frampton, you don’t really have any dramas or catastrophes. What I always say to young trainers is that you need to go and align yourself with a seasoned trainer, do the corner a few times, then take your own fighters on at a certain level, even journeymen – learn before you go and take on the career of someone like that [Frampton].”
This lack of experience, Maree believes, was exposed in January when Frampton lost to Leo Santa Cruz in their WBA featherweight title rematch in Las Vegas.
“In my opinion, when Carl went out in that first round against Santa Cruz, I could tell when he was walking down to the ring that something wasn’t there, a kind of overconfidence. Then he took a shot within the first 30 seconds and it changed Carl’s face completely, from being this happy relaxed ‘I’m having a great time’ sort of thing, to ‘oh shit, what happened there?’ The whole fight changed then when he took this shot.”
“When he came back to the corner… for me a trainer needs to be like a really skilled jockey on the racehorse, you need to know when to use the whip, when to pull back. If you say the wrong thing you can panic a lad and, to me, what happened to Carl was that he got panicked. Then he started chasing it, and when he started chasing it against Santa Cruz he was always going to play into his hands.”
“You can see the lack of experience there. When you look back at the David Haye v Tony Bellew fight, Shane McGuigan doesn’t throw the towel in, Jimmy Tibbs does. I’m not saying Shane wont go on to be a fantastic trainer, but when you’ve picked up Carl Frampton, George Groves, David Haye, Josh Taylor, you’re not really going to experience that much drama – and when it does happen, like with Santa Cruz or David Haye with his leg, you don’t really know how to react because you’ve not been there before. Now these are lads that have been at the top-end of the game fighting for multi-million pound purses. For me, you need to wait and cut your teeth before you take these sorts of lads on for 12 round fights, that’s my opinion.”
“When Carl started training with Shane, I remember one night watching Carl on telly, you had Shane in the corner, I think they might have still had Gerry in the corner, then Jake [McGuigan, Head of Boxing at Cyclone] was ringside, Barry was ringside, and they’re all shouting their heads off, all of them. I remember thinking ‘that’s going to drive Carl crazy, this is not going to work.’ When I was in the corner, I’d have the fighter look at me, I’d talk, not a lot, just what I need to say, and that’s that, I’m the only one who talks.”
“It’s done well, but I can see why it may have come to the point where everyone might have to move on.”
Case in point – the recent three-part BBC documentary ‘Fight Game: The McGuigans,’ which gave a fascinating insight into the Frampton-McGuigan partnership during happier times. An especially memorable moment saw Shane, in no uncertain terms, let his world champion father know who was boss in the corner – and this was something that exemplified to Maree the potential faultlines in the camp.
Before a fight, the fighting starts.@ClonesCyclone @McGuigans_Gym @realcframpton#FightGame The McGuigans starts tonight 10.40 @bbconeni pic.twitter.com/kgT64zTgTe
— BBC Northern Ireland (@BBCnireland) May 17, 2017
“It’s not a normal relationship where it’s someone getting a bit over-excited and you tell them to shut-up. That’s still your dad, and even when you think your dad might be right, what Barry said in that dressing room might have been right, but when you’re a young lad nothing your dad says is ever right. You’re always going to argue against him. In those sorts of situations you wonder whether Shane’s own ego and pride will make him want to go ‘Dad, shutup, I’ve got this,’ when really it could be arguing against good advice because it’s your dad.”
“It’s a real cocktail of personalities. They’re all very close and, for me, being that close and being that sort of a team, a manager, a promoter, an agent, a trainer, all in the family, it’s just too much.”
Whether or not this cocktail proved poison to the Frampton-McGuigan relationship, Maree certainly noticed something different back in February of this year when the was reunited with his former fighter at a dinner event at the Stirk House.
As he states numerous times, he remains a huge supporter of Frampton as both a fighter and a person. Maree has fond memories of his time with a future two-weight world champion. Relaying a favoured anecdote, he detailed how “I remember his first ever fight in Liverpool. You know, you have Carl Frampton who is a multi world champion, a millionaire, top lad, but then he was so nervous that he forgot his gumshield! Barry had to get in the car and leg it back to the hotel and get his gumshield – and he got a speeding ticket on the way!”
“I reminded Carl about that, what it was like at the beginning. It was nice. We met up, he came over and did a sportsman’s dinner for me a few months ago. It was the first time we’d seen each other since we’d trained together and he came back to the hotel so we could have a chat about things. He’d just gotten beat, and I was ribbing him saying ‘you fecker, if you’d have won that I would have sold the place out! You’ve done me out of it.'”
“To be honest, I knew things weren’t right then when I spoke to him. We’d spent a lot of time together and he just didn’t seem happy. He seemed sort of like he didn’t want to be away from his family, that he didn’t like London. I remember saying it to someone who works in the gym that knows Carl and got on well with him that he just didn’t seem to be enjoying his boxing. That was the impression I got. It was kind of like ‘I can’t wait till I’m done.'”
“When I heard about the split I thought it was a shame for all of them, but I think it was the best thing. I think he’s unhappy but I think, if he can get that love back, he can be in big fights again. You can’t go and do something when you’re not enthusiastic about it and I think that’s how Carl’s been feeling. That’s no detriment to the McGuigans, it’s just maybe he needs a change.”
What a view from the Cave Hill. I LOVE BELFAST! ❤ pic.twitter.com/UfKHr81KMs
— Carl Frampton MBE (@RealCFrampton) September 27, 2015
Maree believes he may know the quite simple solution to cure Frampton’s ails. He wants to see the Belfast fighter training in Belfast
“I think Carl needs to get the love back,” reasoned Maree. “For me, I think he needs to maybe find somebody in Ireland or, if he is on a big purse, maybe pay for someone to come over to Ireland and live with him so he can be with his family and his beautiful kids. David Haye, he’s just after bringing that Cuban [Ismael Salas] over. If it’s about getting the love back for it, and he’s a homebird, that might be what he needs to do – that’d be my advice. I can’t really see him going over to London again. Paying someone to come to Belfast, that could be the key, getting the love back for boxing.”
“I think it’s the family, having to leave them and going to London. He’s got a young family, newly married, young kids, and I think he just found it hard. If you’re not really, really enjoying it what you’re doing, then it’s always going to pull you, it’s always going to drag you. He doesn’t strike me, and I’m just guessing here, as the kind of lad who would like city centre stuff. He’s a homebird, and going to London and being around all the different people, I think it just pissed him off. He’s made a few quid now, it’s got to be hard.”
Maree obviously isn’t a subscriber to the idea that fighters need to be ‘locked away’ for fight camps, indeed he believes it is a relic of the boxing past and Rocky movie montages. For Maree, having a happy fighter is the number one priority.
For Frampton, his past coach outlined how “he’s got to find a fighting environment where it isn’t a chore. For me, that might be employing someone to go to Belfast. The guy who did all the corners with me, Jeff Thomas, you could pay someone like him to go over to Belfast for eight weeks and train him. Be in Belfast, be around his family, around his kids.”
“Every boxer nowadays thinks that in order to train and get themselves right that they have to leave their family, leave the kids. I can appreciate maybe not sleeping in the house because the kids are making noise, but to me there’s no benefit of not being around your family, keeping stable and strong. That’s an old-fashioned, archaic way of thinking about boxing, getting away from your family and kids to concentrate on the fight.”
“We don’t really pull away from anybody in today’s day and age, we’re always on our phones and social media, Snapchat, Facetime, all that sort of stuff. It’s not as if, when you leave your family – that’s it. Maybe it was years ago, you’d go away and you’d be in a training base somewhere and you’d never see or think about your family, all you’d think about was your opponent. But that’s bollocks now, because if you go away you’re on Facebook every two freaking minutes, you’re not ‘only’ thinking about your opponent.”
“Stay at home, be with your family, be with your friends, be in an environment that you like – if that’s what works for you. I think too many fighters automatically think ‘I have to move away,’ you don’t. If I was Carl, I’d stay where he is, bring somebody over to him.”
Barry McGuigan famously went through an ugly and litigious break-up with his manager Barney Eastwood in the 1980s – and everyone has noted the parallels between this and the current situation with Frampton. It is being reported that there is still a contract in place between Frampton and Cyclone, and the last thing Maree wants to see is a messy break-up.
However, he can certainly imagine one.
Maree mused how “on Barry’s side you could see the ‘oh I’ve spent a lot of time and investment and built this product around you,’ so maybe he’ll be bitter. And then Carl on the other side might be saying ‘could I have done this? Could I have done that?’ There’ll be contracts and the problem you get to, when you get to the level that they’re at, you get most fall outs when you have problems and other people get involved who are making money, solicitors and stuff, they’ll be the ones that cause problems.”
“If Barry and Carl, and I’m just guessing, just got into a room, Carl said all the things that was on his chest, Barry said all the things that was on his chest, they’d probably be able to mutually accept the situation. But Carl will have a lawyer, Barry will have a lawyer and they’ll start attacking each other and bringing stuff up, of course there’ll be a potential to fall out.”
“That’s how these fall-outs happen. You could have a marriage that splits up and they might be about to split amicably, but then you get two solicitors involved and before you know it you’re fighting over a house because the solicitors are making money off that.”
“You could easily have a situation in this where the two fall out. I’d hate to see it, because I think a lot of both of them and was in it at the beginning, so I’d hate to see a fall-out. I really hope that doesn’t happen. Knowing them both individually and knowing that they are both good blokes, I do believe that there could be a conversation between the two of them, I don’t know how in-depth or at what stage things got to or what the reasons are – but them two sorting it out, I’m sure they could.”
Maree is a boxing man, and it would only seem right that the conversation ends with talk of actual boxing. The former trainer wants to see Frampton back at the top, somewhere he believes ‘The Jackal’ belongs.
“Yeah, I would [say Frampton is the best featherweight in the world]. Style-wise, the one who would give him the biggest problems is [IBF champion Lee] Selby because of how unorthodox he is. Carl is such a tremendously schooled boxer and if you’re going to have a problem with a tremendously schooled boxer it will be against someone who is unorthodox. If you’re a tremendously skilled boxer, the only thing you’re going to have a problem against is someone that’s not, someone who’s unconventional, who does something that’s out of the norm – and I think Selby does that. I think, for Carl, he’d be the danger one.”
“Whereas a rematch with Scott Quigg now that he’s out in America, he’s got the Freddie Roach angle and all that stuff, in Belfast – they did it in Manchester, now let’s do it in Belfast, everyone knows Scott will be up for that. That would be a great return fight. That would be a tremendous fight for both of them, especially if he can’t get the Santa Cruz fight.”
“The thing with boxing is, with the way they’re trying to improve things, and at the top level it’s good, a loss doesn’t really matter that much once you’re involved in big fights and it’s close. You’re seeing all these fighters in America where someone will lose but come back and fight again and be back in the mix again. Carl’s got to the stage now where he’s a mega name, his whole country’s behind him, he’s always going to get big fights, it’s not the end of the world.”
“I think he’ll be right back in the mix, he just needs another big fight to get back on the radar again. Who that’s going to be, I’ve got no idea, whether he’ll take a warm-up one with a new trainer or whether he’ll go straight in with somebody like Selby or somebody like that.”
“He’s spent the last ten years building up to this point where he can make the money, now is the time to make the money and cash in, this is what the game’s all about – he’s done this to earn money for his family. He’s got to that point now where, instead of fighting for a few grand in a leisure centre in Cardiff, he’s now fighting for a guaranteed at least a million pound payday wherever that might be in the world. So he needs to bank a few of them, and he’s certainly got a few years to do that.”
Whoever Frampton fights next, wherever he goes, Kevin Maree will post his regular Facebook message of support, push the ‘what could have beens’ to the back of his head, and take pride in the role he played in the career of ‘The Jackal.’
And rightly so.