Everyone’s Back in Belfast



Everyone’s Back in Belfast


After last year's trip to Belfast resulted in us having no professional boxing to watch ( I wondered if many of my friends would be interested in accompanying me back to Northern Ireland's capital city to watch Carl Frampton take on Nonito Donaire. I shouldn't have been concerned as five of my mates, ranging from very interested in boxing to curious observer, but all ticking the highly skilled at socialising box, agreed to make the short trip across the Irish sea for a two night stay. We were back in Belfast looking forward to a good weekend while the more hardcore boxing fans in the group wondered what we would see from Carl Frampton.

As it turned out there was no need to be concerned for Frampton – but more on that later.

Our early Friday arrival presented the perfect opportunity to take the city tour. It turned out to be a solid decision as the 90 minute excursion was punctuated with stops at all the major landmarks and areas in a city that has an interesting, but sadly divided history. Being born in Scotland in 1981 I was of course aware of what the media here termed ‘The Troubles' in Northern Ireland when I was growing up. The city tour, in explaining the political history of Ireland as a whole, gave context to how things started. After informing us about the past we heard about The Good Friday Agreement, signed in April 1998 and the major document of the peace process, we were taken to the present day by visiting the Northern Irish Assembly (parliament) building to the East of the city.

Following this we headed West to be shown the areas of the city that were most divided back in the years before The Good Friday Agreement. Political differences were mixed with religious ones as the Protestant and Catholic communities were bitterly opposed. Murals on the walls in both areas depict many important events and individuals from those days. Things are better now in terms of there being no bombings or other high levels of violence but I got the impression that there is still some division between the two communities.

The tour ended and we embarked on a bit of history of our own. Re-visiting some of the watering holes we had enjoyed on the previous trip to Belfast. Upon visiting The Duke of York pub the bar staff were asking if we were over for the boxing. When we answered in the positive one of them told us that she is the girlfriend of Tyrone McKenna, (16-0-1, 6KOs) a Belfast 140lb fighter who was on the card the following night. He'd been training over in Glasgow for this bout so his girlfriend was pleased he was back in Belfast for a while.

Friday passed into Saturday and after enjoying the afternoon sunshine it was time to head East towards the waterfront and the SSE Arena for the fights. As timing would have it I arrived in time to watch the aforementioned McKenna win a handy points decision in his  ten round bout. Somewhere down by the ring I was sure that his girlfriend could now fully relax and enjoy her night off from serving up pints and shots to thirsty bar-goers.

The card continued but the focus was firmly on the main event. The boxing crowd in Belfast is knowledgeable and the general mood I sensed was one of apprehension – after the Horacio Garcia fight in November Frampton's fan base was nervous, knowing a below par performance against Nonito Donaire may result in defeat.

The atmosphere in the building was at deafening levels for the buildup to and the main event boxers entering the ring. During the introductions I'm sure the ring announcer was speaking but from my vantage point I was unable to hear a word. The formalities concluded and the fight began. The home crowd got right behind Frampton, signing his name along with some other songs that fans of the Northern Ireland International football (soccer) team sing. Frampton used the opening session to scout out Donaire – an outrageously fast left hook which Frampton somehow avoided showed that Donaire still posed a threat.

After that the fight settled into a pattern that saw Frampton as being the man on top. His footwork was outstanding as he presented himself as being in range to the Filipino fighter with the 6-inch reach advantage. His reflexes were even better as time and again he avoided the incoming punches before landing a counter or two of his own before Nonito could reset. Carl's moments on the front foot were beautiful to watch also as he made excellent use of his jab which presented opportunities to score with his right hand. A nasty swelling emerged under Donaire's left eye in the second.

Another element of the fight was the inside work from both men. Frampton was physically stronger in that department so it served him well using this tactic occasionally. Donaire though countered this with excellent uppercuts numerous times which prevented the home boxer from completely dominating these exchanges. While boxing at range and using his lovely counters Frampton was building up a handy lead on the cards so as we entered the championship rounds Donaire knew he required something special. He went for it in the eleventh, unloading booming left hooks and right hands. Despite the roars of the crowd around me to not get involved and continue to box, Frampton indulged in a bit of toe to toe brawling with his foe. It added some fast paced action to what had been a highly enjoyably tactical battle between two fighters with supreme skills and ring IQ. Round twelve featured a little more of the same but Frampton did control the urge to slug it out too much in the final session. All three judges returned scored of 117-111 for Frampton and the Irishman was awarded the WBO interim featherweight title.

On a night where we weren't sure what to expect from Frampton it was good to see him back to his best in Belfast. A welcome return to form for a fighter who now looks like he will fulfil his dream of being able to fight at Windsor Park – The National Football Stadium in Northern Ireland. It is hoped that a contest at the stadium on the west side of the city (thanks again to the city tour) can be arranged next. Possible opponents being touted are full WBO champion Oscar Valdez or the winner of the May 19 IBF title fight between Frampton's UK rivals – Lee Selby of Wales and Josh Warrington of England.

The weekend was winding down, Sunday afternoon was upon us and our flight back home was looming. We decided to visit The Crown Saloon which is one of the oldest bars in the city. It is also directly across the road from The Europa Hotel – the fighter hotel on fight week and the pickup point for the airport transfer bus.

While we were enjoying the ambience of The Crown I noticed Nonito Donaire had tweeted that in order to thank the fans in Belfast for the welcome and respect he received in the city he would be doing a meet and greet with anyone who wanted to come along to that very bar at 8pm. Sadly for us our flight was departing before that so we would miss out on meeting the man. We did however randomly bump into Frampton's new trainer Jamie Moore. After congratulating him on the previous night's result I introduced myself and asked him his thoughts moving forward for Frampton. Needless to say he is very confident that Carl Frampton on top form beats Oscar Valdez and Lee Selby.

While the Frampton-Moore connection is still in its infancy it did look like both of them had a far better understanding of each other during the Donaire fight as opposed to the Garcia one. The full twelve week training camp no doubt played a part and while it can't be claimed that the partnership got back on track this weekend, it may well be looked back on as the fight that cemented a productive fighter-trainer relationship if they go on to enjoy further success. Moore's game plan of using the distance and Frampton's execution of it worked very well – huge credit to both.

It was soon time to board the airport bus and after briefly considering postponing going home until the following day so I could meet Donaire, I decided to return home on schedule. As the bus made its way to the airport my mind wandered back to the very end of Saturday night as we were able to grab one or two late drinks after the fights. The Harp Bar was our venue of choice. The lady serving up the refreshments noticed the NY FIGHTS logo on my polo shirt and was asking about the fight. After explaining how it had gone and what was possibly next she asked if we would return to Belfast for the Windsor Park event. The answer was a resounding yes,  to which she responded, “in that case it will be our pleasure to welcome you back when that happens.”

A boxing fan since his teenage years, Morrison began writing about the sport in July 2016. He appreciates all styles of boxing and has nothing but respect for those who get in the ring for our entertainment. Morrison is from Scotland and can be found on Twitter @Morrie1981.