Good times never seemed so good
I’ve been inclined… do, do, doo,
To believe they never would
But now I look at the night and it don’t seem so lonely
We fill it up with only two
And when I hurt
Hurtin’ runs off my shoulders
How can I hurt when I’m holding you?
Neil Diamond may as well have been the Irish boxing fraternity singing to Carl Frampton rather than Caroline in a ballad that has become a pre-fight ‘Jackal’ anthem – however, that love seems to be on the rocks .
Like Caroline’s arrival in the singer-songwriter’s ode, Frampton had come along and transformed a period of gloom and made the hurt trickle off Irish fight fans’ shoulders.
Indeed, it was often when the 1969 recorded song was being belted out before the Belfast favourite’s fights that the Irish fight fan felt assured again. Amid the often well-on party-style joy the song filled the arenas and even stadiums with, it also brought about a reassuring comfort.
The sick, dying, and dead prognosis given the noble art were laughed at during those three minutes and during the three minute increments which followed where Frampton would put on a show of a different kind in the ring.
During that period, boxing fans could take real joy in their sport again. The sweet science still had it. It could draw crowds, generate a sensational atmosphere, provide us with great sporting moments, and give us a true hero to support.
While Belfast always had a strong enough scene, Frampton’s arrival to the scene at the turn of the decade coincided with a rollercoaster-style drop in terms of publicity and following for the pro side of the sport on the island as whole.
Small hall shows got bigger and more frequent and bigger shows got fewer and less glamorous. The mainstream was drifting away from the sport and the hurt was beginning to weight heavy on the boxing family’s shoulders.
However, just like Caroline seemed to do for one Mr. Diamond, Frampton changed things for the fight fan. Granted, early on, the Tiger’s Bay prospect’s association to Barry McGuigan opened doors, but it wasn’t long before the talented fighter became a star in his own right.
Frampton was the everyman done good. A fighter people could relate to, honest, humble. yet confident, funny and as down to earth as you could get.
A star in the ring and a Joe Soap out of it.
During what is widely regarded as a difficult few years for boxing in Ireland, Frampton brought mainstream mass media to boxing, made the Odyssey Arena ‘The Jackal’s Den’, ensured Irish fight fans had major title fights on home soil to attend, and major wins to celebrate.
The Belfast fighter wasn’t the only Irish name doing well, but was the only one selling out shows at home and providing a platform for other fighters to develop and progress on.
When he defeated an in-form and confident Kiko Martinez to become IBF super bantamweight champion of the world in a purpose built stadium on the Titanic Slipway back in 2014 the popular fighter outgrew Bernard Dunne comparisons. His journey may not have played out on terrestrial tv, but his reign at the top had eclipsed that of the Dubliner.
A trip to Manchester and a win on PPV over Scott Quigg in front of a Manchester Arena packed to the rafters with Irish and Belfast fight fans in particular brought things to a new level and a sensational win over Leo Santa Cruz in New York in the same year not only saw Frampton make history, but put Irish boxing at the centre of the world stage.
All this during a period where promoters, managers, fighters and even fans were full of frustration and gripes.
Ironically, Frampton’s most frustrating year came during a period Belfast began to re-position itself as ‘the capital of European boxing’, an occurrence most will admit ‘The Jackal’ laid the foundations for. Other names emerged, but when the 31-year-old sold out Windsor Park he proved who the real star of boxing in Ireland was.
Frampton didn’t just keep the boxing fire burning, he poured petrol on it and helped ignite a blaze to a point were we arguably find ourselves undergoing a revival.
The fighter himself will take great personal pride in his achievements, but the sport in Ireland should show a great deal of gratitude to a star that shone a positive light on a boxing when it was slipping into the dark in terms of press coverage and popularity not to mention one that was slipping into the red in terms of profitability.
So it was sad to see some Irish fight fans and even some people within the family react apathetically – or even take some pleasure – in his recent defeat to Josh Warrington.
It has to be noted there was massive support for Frampton and almost all did hope for him to win, but there were some who found a loophole that allowed them to indulge in some schadenfreude following the points reverse at the Manchester Arena.
We’ve seen the stats, we’ve read and heard the comments both public and private, things aren’t the same as they were before Carl Frampton’s advisors and management, Mack The Knife Global, unceremoniously pulled out of the Republic of Ireland.
The former Celtic, Commonwealth, European, unified and two-weight world champ, who will go down as one of if not the greatest we have ever produced, never got the superstar adulation he deserved down South for reasons never really explored too deeply, but within sport-mad and boxing circles in particular he was loved.
Yet, during the fall out of his Manchester defeat and an appearance in the ring that could be his last, some of those that love Frampton seemed to find some shred comfort in the defeat.
It is unfair and unjust for a fighter who done some much for the sport in Ireland, but some found time to celebrate a defeat for MTK while at the same time lamenting a Frampton loss.
Admittedly, some cooled on Carl immediately following his loss to Leo Santa Cruz in January 2016 – although this was a more casual, fickle element and the more intense questioning has spiked over the past 11 months.
It might seem strange to most, but a divide has opened since MTK, a promotional and managerial outfit with massive Irish links and roots, elected to follow marketing advice and ban their fighters from fighting in the South of Ireland as well as banning all professional contact with Irish media.
When it gets to a point that possibly Ireland’s best ever and a man who helped keep the sport alive at the top end in on the island can lose such a massive fight without widespread fan heartbreak it becomes bad marketing and even worrying.
We have argued the ban is as counterproductive as it is futile – as well as being a boycott which is extremely loosely defined and regularly broken when it suits – but the diktat has had its positives for some. Down South a real revival has taken place with fighters not initially set for stardom building names on Boxing Ireland and TV-broadcast Assassin shows while the likes of Jason Quigley, Aaron McKenna, and Spike O’Sullivan have seen their profiles sky-rocket while coverage of Katie Taylor has never been as widespread or as in-depth.
A real chasm has started to develop. Some, particularly in the media, have become disgruntled with the MTK approach and the ire has sadly seemingly started to filter down towards MTK fighters.
Fighters are following orders from their bosses and one can recognise individual approaches from boxers respecting their paymasters.
Some do feel that the media are ‘scum’ but plenty are somewhat frustrated, privately, with the outfit’s approach while staying quiet publically. However, the long and short of it is that the ban has made it harder for MTK fighters to build relationships with fans outside of the North and their own immediate social circles.
A media embargo kills the unique selling point of the boxer, that hardcore ability to relate, that refreshing ability to connect outside the bland press release and the power to speak to fight fans in real terms rather than like something out of a football post-game interview (110%, it is what it is, thank you) – while fighters from the Republic being unable to fight closer to home is a massive stunt to momentum.
Thus, it now seems we have a far from desirable situation that a fighter, who has represented Ireland on the world stage and fed the fight fraternity massive nights during something of a famine at home, suffered defeat in an honourable and classy manner yet it didn’t bring widespread remorse.
What’s more worrying is, if fans can have that reaction with regard to such a successful and loved fighter, what could be the response for lesser lights of the stable?
We have always enjoyed the family aspect to Irish boxing and admired as fans supported their own regardless of ethnicity, religion, county or background.
So, it hurts to see a change in that attitude, granted it’s still a slight shift, but the fact it manifested after defeat to a fighter with ‘legendary’ potential makes it all the more worrying.