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December 29, 2016

The Year of The Jackal

Luke Blackledge

CARL FRAMPTON: 2016 FIGHTER OF THE YEAR

by Shaun Brown

Fighter of the Year contenders come in all shapes and sizes, unsurprisingly.

For 2016 there have been various candidates put forward. An American light heavyweight who got a fortunate decision in Las Vegas, a Filipino veteran who has proved there’s life in the old senator yet, a Ukranian who appears to be boxing’s equivalent of The Matrix, and a five foot three Nicaraguan who still fails to appear at the top of some people's pound-for-pound charts for one reason or another.

Our fighter of the year for 2016 hails from Tiger’s Bay, North Belfast. A 29-year-old unassuming individual whose stock went through the roof from Manchester to New York over a five-month period.

Carl Frampton not only unified the super bantamweight division in the backyard of his long-time rival Scott Quigg but then topped that by fighting in America and became a two-weight world champion, and in doing so featured in one half of a legitimate Fight of the Year contender.

When ‘The Jackal’ annexed Quigg’s WBA 122lbs title back in February, it was even by his own admission a bit of a dull affair that only really gathered pace in the latter stages of the fight. But after a long, agonising journey to get the bout signed and sealed, the Northern Irishman put to bed who was the best (bar Guillermo Rigondeaux) at the weight.

The build-up to the bout which landed at the Manchester Arena on February 27 was full of the usual hyperbole, but relations between the two camps became strained thanks to a press tour which featured the usual to and fro of one-upmanship, attempted mind games and talking over one another.

This was beginning to look like a monkey that Frampton had to get off his back. The thought of losing to Quigg for the then IBF champion was unfathomable. It could be in Manchester or on the streets of Bury where Quigg is from, he dare not lose to someone who many thought was his equal and more. Travelling back to Belfast, not for a hero’s reception, after defeat would have been the stuff of nightmares.

Before the first bell rang in front of 20,000 fans, and live on pay-per-view in the UK, there had been hopes (dreams for some fight fans) that this would the British version of Barrera-Morales. A rivalry that had brewed for so long that it would spill over and culminate in something that would be replayed on Sky Sports forever and ever. Instead, Frampton used brains not brawn. His underrated boxing abilities were used to nullify any hope that Quigg had of engaging his opponent in a battle of chins and power.

Carl Frampton had been broken free of Scott Quigg's name after being linked with him for several years. A split decision was the verdict but in truth the judges should have returned all three cards for a dominant Frampton. The rivalry, for now, was over. Pastures new beckoned but not before Frampton and his team celebrated a victory over Quigg, his trainer Joe Gallagher and promoter Eddie Hearn. Cyclone 1 Matchroom 0. That matters, both camps are lying if they say it doesn't.

The immediate future involved afterwards involved Guillermo Rigondeaux. A Cuban shadow that has hovered over Frampton’s career but a fight that, unfortunately, has never looked like happening.

Both the IBF and WBA ordered Frampton to make mandatory defences of their titles. Shingo Wake and Rigondeaux the individuals who were in pole position at the time.

Frampton’s manager Barry McGuigan would tell the Belfast Telegraph that they were inclined to go down the IBF route and fight Wake. What they really wanted was the more lucrative opportunity to go to America and take on the machine gun, automatic fire, fighting style of WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz.

On the night of July 30, 2016, after a more reserved and respectful build-up than what we had for Frampton v Quigg, the crowd inside the Barclays Centre, Brooklyn and those watching across the world watched the kind of fight that many had hoped we would get in Manchester.

Twelve rounds of action that left you breathless and yearning for the days of 15-round affairs. Such was the pace, such was the action that you would have been a fool to leave your seat in the venue or wherever you watched it.

The Jackal Army were in full voice as Frampton took the fight to Santa Cruz from the beginning. The left hook that staggered Santa Cruz in the final minute of the second round, the various blistering trade-offs in the fourth, the sixth… which included a thudding right from the Mexican, Frampton showing superior movement late on but still willing to engage in war whenever Santa Cruz wanted to. A handful of moments that do not do this fight justice and a modern day battle which WILL be replayed over and over in the years to come.

Lomachenko battered an over cooked Roman Martinez and bamboozled an Axe Man, Terence Crawford was never really challenged over three fights in 12 months but Carl Frampton triumphed in two 50-50 fights, both as the away fighter and on both occasions proving he can box in any way it takes to emerge triumphant.

Carl Frampton is our 2016 Fighter of the Year and you get the feeling that he is just getting started.