Last Saturday, Carl Frampton returned to the ring in his home city of Belfast. Looking to rebound from his first career defeat, to Leo Santa Cruz in January, Frampton was matched against Horacio Garcia (33-3-1, 24KOs) of Mexico.
It was all change for Frampton as since that Santa Cruz bout he has replaced his management, promoter and trainer. Splitting from long time manager Barry McGuigan in August, Frampton by default also parted ways with the McGuigan family run Cyclone Promotions and his long time coach Shane McGuigan.
The Belfast boxer is now managed by MTK Global and promoted by Frank Warren. Jamie Moore has taken over training duties and to emphasise this new start, Frampton's return against Garcia was titled “Frampton Reborn.”
Full disclosure – Carl Frampton is my favourite UK boxer. He has been for quite some time now. I was looking forward to seeing him in action at the weekend. I watched and was left feeling disappointed.
Yes, the result was a unanimous decision win for Frampton after the scheduled ten rounds had been completed. Yes, he was having his first fight since January as well as dealing with the pressure of fighting at home for the first time in almost three years but, due to the high standards he has set, I was expecting a better showing from the former two weight world champion.
Horacio Garcia was a tough, but limited opponent. The way he made Frampton struggle in the closing rounds was alarming.
The early stages of the fight actually went well for the home fighter. Frampton looked sharp and energetic. He was beating Garcia to the punch and building what would turn out to be a required lead on the scorecards.
The problems started as we neared the halfway point in the contest. Garcia began to land with more regularity. This resulted in Frampton throwing less of his own shots and spending periods of time backed up on the ropes. Carl also touched down in the seventh round, more due to a balance issue after a tangle of feet, but a left hook landed during the exchange and the referee correctly ruled a knockdown. A 10-8 round in the bank, Garcia then boxed confidently for the remainder of the fight. Frampton was lacking stamina and there was no clear leadership on obvious display coming from his new corner team.
This all contributed to a stressful final three rounds for Frampton supporters but he got through the crisis and the judges scores read 98-93, 97-93 and 96-93.
Winning a professional boxing match is not easy and Frampton did this after going through an emotional time in terms of his career outside the ring over the last several months. So can we mark this down as a one off due to these factors and a long layoff, or was this the first indication that Carl Frampton's best days in a boxing ring are already behind him?
I hope it is the former but I can't ignore what I saw. Here are the reasons I'm concerned:
Frampton will be 31 and into his ninth year as a pro the next time he gloves up. Aging and Father Time treat each fighter differently but the lack of conditioning against Garcia had me thinking that after many years in the sport and countless difficult training camps that perhaps the preparations for Garcia weren't as full on as they should have been. Either that or Carl can't go to the well anymore – if that's the case then a serious problem is brewing.
Linked to this could be making weight. Back in July Carl missed the 126lb limit, for what was to be a featherweight title eliminator against Andres Gutierrez, by an entire pound. That fight was eventually cancelled after Gutierrez had an accident in the shower. I was therefore surprised to notice that Frampton also hit the weigh-in scales at 127lbs for Saturday's bout. This wasn't an obstacle for the Garcia fight as it was contracted at 128lbs but I wanted to see Frampton make the featherweight number. Do we have a developing concern with making featherweight here?
The lack of leadership and tactics from his corner is also something that Frampton needs to address. This is the issue I am least troubled by at this stage though as it was their first outing together but I hope to see a marked improvement when Frampton next fights.
Finally, this question has to be asked – is the desire still there? Frampton has often talked about wanting to get back to the top of the featherweight division. He also speaks about how difficult he finds it being away from his young family during training camps. This is understandable and Frampton needs to weigh up if he is still hungry enough to make these tough sacrifices. The talent and ability is there but if he doesn't want it badly enough during the preparation period there is every chance of coming up short in a title fight against a fellow elite boxer.
Despite highlighting these perceived problems I want to reiterate that I hope Saturday was just a one off for Frampton. History may well read that Carl had a difficult fight due to a long layoff and finding his feet with an entirely new team around him before going on to secure another world title. We won't know until he boxes again, (March or April has been mentioned) but this observer certainly hopes the well supported boxer from Belfast is back excelling at the top level before long.
I want to see one of the best ever fighters from these shores with a world championship belt around his waist in 2018. I'm not the only one. Carl Frampton and team – over to you.