It is said to be the most wonderful time of the year. The feverish excitement, the shopping frenzy, the fall of snow coating rooftops, family gatherings, mistletoe, holly and ivy – it’s easy for a dreamer to drift off into a winter wonderland, fantasising about the perfect Christmas. Amidst the festive sentiment and celebratory folks, it is the novelty of presents which is often heavily anticipated for inquisitive minds continually wonder what bundle of goodies will be left for them under the fireplace come the 25th of December.
Carl “The Jackal” Frampton is one of many minds. He enjoyed a very productive 2018, adding lighting to an already decorated resume with a victory over future Hall of Famer Nonito Donaire and then crossing off the wish of boxing at Windsor Park. Yet a glance at the list he had addressed to Santa had one wish firmly scribbled atop in capitals – a world championship. The Northern Irishman had been deprived of a world title since 2016 and had since hoped for Santa to airdrop another title to him during his annual chimney excursions. Opposite number Josh “The Leeds Warrior” Warrington, gratified too with a success laden 2018, had also been quietly hoping for a gift, one intangible yet of paramount importance – respect. Despite being the proud owner of the IBF featherweight championship, the Leeds native had often felt overlooked, underrated and disrespected, the sentiments of a man who felt should be a star, and not part of the tree supporting one.
Awakening shortly after sunrise, both men in their childlike happiness raced towards the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, with pairs of hands grabbing and snatching whatever presents were addressed to them. Papers were torn and boxes were unpacked yet the one thing each man had hoped for appeared incognito. A forlorn Frampton sat on one end of the table, mirroring him was a disappointed Warrington. Separating the two was an assortment of all that was Christmas – a stuffed turkey, mince pies, bottles of wine, Christmas crackers and oddly enough, a present eerily shaped like a championship belt.
But there was no name as “To” was left hanging with ellipses. Both men attempted to claim ownership over it insisting Santa, as a result of his globe traversing expeditions, had forgot to name it. Yet the unnamed present was further emblematic in that what one wanted, the other had. Carl Frampton wanted reclamation. Josh Warrington sought validation. Both men circled the dinner table, hissing comments such as “he’s (Warrington) not going to know what hit him” and “He (Frampton) is a bit full of himself”. Words proved fruitless as both men pounced simultaneously and placed the package in a vice grip. No sooner had the festive tug of war over the dinner table began, than the battle escalated.
Let it snow? No.
Let it war and war they did.
In front of a capacity choir in the Manchester Arena, the 2 men co-operated in tearing off the roof, tapestry and decorations in a generation defining thriller. The expectation prior was that it was going to be a good fight, given the calibre of fighters involved. Frampton and Warrington personally saw to hurling an elf through those expectations, smashing them dismissively and instead, providing 12 rounds of furious and unrelenting savagery, scenes so intense that Frank Warren gushed it was the best fight he’d ever seen on British soil.
Round 1 was one for the ages. Any card exchanging pleasantries evaporated almost immediately, as a tentative first minute immediately morphed into a warzone. Both men, equipped with whatever they could grab off the dinner table, marched forward and fiercely exchanged at close quarters. With each punch thrown, the carol singing crowd reverberated louder and louder, right up until Warrington rung Frampton’s jingle bells with the oversized turkey, reeling the Ulsterman back to the ropes disoriented. Decibels were shattered as the volcanic crowd immediately erupted and in a genuine life imitating art moment, the in-ring adrenaline permeated into the crowd as 8 individuals felt it necessary to brawl amongst each other.
Frampton steadied himself in the second stanza by hurling mince pies as jabs, keeping Warrington at bay before feeding him a mouthful of left hook pudding. An inexorable Warrington refused to budge and retaliated with an onslaught of venomous steel baubles. He rung Frampton’s bells again, his legs more fitting on an ice rink than a boxing canvas. An early stunning finish was sensed and with that, the pro-Warrington crowd devoured the noise of Frampton’s supporters as they could no longer contain their excitement.
It had taken just 6 minutes for the fight to ignite, in the same manner as a flame warmly greeting a gasoline trail. Frampton had to dig deep after 2 tumultuous opening rounds and dig deep he did. Electing to knuckle his feet in across rounds 3 and 4, the Ulsterman strafed Warrington with his knifing jab followed by snowballing right hands in a cleaner display of boxing efficiency. The Warrington avalanche was slowly beginning to subside.
Or so Frampton thought. Both men violently exchanged gift-wrapped body shots but Warrington, channelling his inner Energizer bunny spirit, nabbed the 5th with what were now becoming trademark fistic torrents. The tempo decreased in the 6th round to a pace which suited the smaller Frampton and although he lost the round, the window of hope he desperately needed had become slightly open. That window opened a bit more, as Frampton enjoyed a successful round 7 by sticking to the organised boxing that had initially banked him rounds. He was dipping, dodging and outmanoeuvring the bigger Warrington, all the while landing counter glass wine bottles to negate the pressure. Whether Frampton could successfully steady the feast fight given the frantic pace already set was another task altogether.
Rounds 8, 9 and 10 witnessed the relentlessness temporarily wane as fatigue made its first appearance of the evening. A tiring Frampton urgently poked and probed Warrington with a lit candle yanked from the mantelpiece yet a parsimonious Warrington declined to donate potentially hazardous opportunities, opting to steal rounds through volume instead. The championship rounds arrived with a warning that Frampton needed to grab the reindeer by the horns, which meant landing that one momentum-shifting shot. He continued to methodically stalk, peppering accurate rights and shaded the 11th round but the one big punch miracle remained out of reach.
A colossal rumble, more reminiscent of the bloodlust Coliseum days, reverberated around the arena when the 12th and final round of the evening arrived. Warrington boxed the first 2 minutes of the round with the esoteric knowledge of knowing he was comfortably ahead, circling around the dinner table and refusing to commit costly mistakes. Frampton desperately chased his dream, sagging yet still running after Santa and his reindeers who had still not granted his big punch wish.
With the final minute remaining, both men deviated from their game plans and finished the way they started – up, close and personal. Frampton’s accurate star shooting shots versus Warrington’s house on fire pressure. If it was even possible, the crowd grew louder as the minute counted down. Both men threw absolutely everything at each other. Left hook. Sleigh. Right hand. Christmas tree. Body shot. Christmas pudding. Right hooks. Baubles. Uppercuts. Turkey. Overhand shots. Table.
It was finally over.
If the paying public entered expecting a serene Nativity, little did they know they had become a part of something more memorable. Together with Frampton and Warrington, the 3 combined to transform the Manchester Arena into a beautifully violent snowglobe, with the crowd being the liquid that kept everything moving. The ceramic figures of Frampton and Warrington were titled here, they were titled there, momentum on one side, momentum on the other, they were shaken softly and aggressively yet no matter where the obstreperous Manchester Arena ornament was positioned, the conclusion and story remained the same. What was told was the tale of 2 men who bankrupted everything within them with the same reckless abandon as shopaholics at a Christmas sale. Their hearts, their energy, their willpower, their blood, their sweat, their ambitions, the food, everything was spent over the course of 36 absorbing minutes in a quest to confirm that which they sought. Reclamation. Validation.
Arriving with the decision were the traditional egregious professional judges who too embraced the Christmas spirit, roleplaying as the 3 wise men as opposed to the customary 3 blind mice. Collectively, they turned up at the door and delivered 3 rightful presents – 116 112, 116 112 and 116 113, all to Warrington. The IBF featherweight championship would remain in Leeds.
The verdict also confirmed a new star was planted atop the British boxing Christmas tree, completing the constellation of talent that currently saturates the country. It would have taken an extremely fortuitous man to envisage the kind of year Warrington would ultimately enjoy, given the nature of scepticism that surrounded him. Instead, 2018 was truly the year where the boy became the man. The Frampton victory was a continuation of his summer success over Lee Selby, then successfully collecting the IBF featherweight title in front of a thunderous Elland Road audience. If the spellbinding Oleksandr Usyk wasn’t floating around with his mystical fists, Warrington could have easily found himself in the Fighter of the Year discussion. After all, this is a man who has now beaten both a top 5 ranked and a top 10 ranked fighter as the underdog, became a world champion and engaged in a fight of the year candidate.
2019 beckons with bigger challenges but bigger presents, such as eye watering unification tussles against the likes of Leo Santa Cruz, Gary Russell Jr and Oscar Valdez.
As for Frampton, the wee Northern Irishman has enjoyed a stellar career. Wins over Kiko Martinez, Chris Avalos, Leo Santa Cruz, Scott Quigg and Donaire have already established him as a generational great. Everything after Donaire has been an added bonus but it is difficult to see where Frampton goes from here. He wanted that second world title to completely assert his legacy, no doubt further motivated by the deal inked with Frank Warren and BT Sport. He wanted that trilogy fight with Santa Cruz and there were rumblings of a potential barnburner with Oscar Valdez forthcoming. Those Christmas dreams appear bleak now yet in its own peculiar way, Frampton can look back on 2018 with pride and there can be no shame in being on the losing end against Warrington. In fights as tremendous as those, there are no losers – only winners.
Whether Frampton elects to carry on fighting or hangs his gloves up with the rest of the Christmas stocking is strictly his call but perhaps he might be persuaded to box one final farewell fight at some point back in Ireland, not as a retirement event but as a celebration, one final call to arms to celebrate one of Northern Ireland’s greatest fighters.
“YORK-SHIRE! YORK-SHIRE! YORK-SHIRE!” As the boisterous crowd hymned and serenaded the champion, the challenger surveyed the chaotic Christmas ambience that had been created. With faces slick and pockmarked in festive red blood, the pugnacious duo embraced each other having bared their souls to the world before reseating themselves at a dinner table that too was replete with bruises and swelling. Emptying out a glass of red wine for the 2, Frampton praised his conqueror, stating “Josh won the fight fair and square … I hope he goes on to do great things and unify.“
Warrington sipped as he listened, before returning the compliments with “I want to say a big thank you to the man beside me. It takes two to make a fight like that.”
Boxing is a funny old game. Paradoxical in nature, only something as bellicose as this artful sport can simultaneously be resplendent. Put aside the fact Frampton didn’t get what he wished for and Warrington did. Together, they merrily toasted as pugilistic Father Christmas’ and delivered a gift that not only the old man himself couldn’t have but one that superseded both prudent and chimerical expectations.
One hell of a fight before Christmas.