The man was living his childhood dream. A proud Northern Irishman who had spent many hours watching the country's footballing heroes play at Windsor Park, he was now performing in his sport at the same venue. Boxing had set up shop at the recently refurbished football stadium and Carl Frampton topped the bill.
Opponent Luke Jackson of Australia probably suspected he was in for a hard night but the reality turned out to be even harsher than most could have imagined. Frampton, focused and determined, delivered one of the best performances of his career in front of a sold out crowd of 25,000. If there were any lingering doubts about Frampton's status as one of the top 126lb fighters in the world last night should have erased them.
A difficult 2017 is now firmly in the rear-view mirror for “The Jackal” as April's win over Nonito Donaire and last night's masterclass against Jackson have Frampton back and primed to get his hands on a world title once again.
Amid a party atmosphere Frampton took control of proceedings against Jackson from the opening bell and smoothly moved through the gears, adding more offense as the bout progressed, before Jackson's corner threw the towel in to save their man in the ninth round.
The first couple of rounds were all about Frampton demonstrating to his game but over-matched opponent that he wasn't ready for this level. Outstanding footwork enabled Carl to expertly control the distance and maneuver Jackson into positions he really didn't want to be in. Of course the home fighter was landing at will during the early running but he wasn't throwing with spite at this stage.
The advanced attacks and power shots started from round three. Frampton, now getting into full flow, was full of confidence as he continued to move Jackson around while beginning to step in and put some hurt on his opponent. Jackson was reduced to throwing out single, hopeful punches but even those quick shots were being countered by the razor sharp Irishman.
The fifth round was particularly one-sided and I wondered how much more of the procession the away corner would allow. Credit to Jackson for continuing to try and make something happen but he was being taken apart and could do nothing about it.
It was then mildly surprising when Jackson had his best session in the sixth. Displaying his bravery he continued to try to turn the tide of the fight and caught Frampton with a couple of eye-catching shots as the Irishman perhaps got slightly careless for a few seconds. One flush right in particular snapped Frampton back into full concentration mode. There was still a job to complete.
And it was finished off emphatically. Jackson was gritty again in the seventh but he was being beaten to the punch by Frampton's superior timing and roughed up when the fight went up close. Jackson's resistance was put onto life support in round eight via a beautiful two punch combination from Frampton. “The Jackal” touched the Australian's chin with half an uppercut, a punch that was enough to open up the body, before finishing it off with a sweeping left hook to the body. The target was hit perfectly and Jackson was down. In one final example of his toughness he beat the count but his race looked run.
The curtain came down in the next round. A right to the body had Jackson hurt again. The Aussie lowered his guard and was ripe for the taking as pain and exhaustion had fully taken hold. Mercifully for Jackson his corner quickly realised this, the towel was thrown and the fight waved off by the referee. The result goes in the books as TKO9 for Frampton.
It was good to see Frampton underlining his advantage over Jackson with such authority. There will be those who say he should have done so but it is easier said than done. By methodically putting the pressure on Jackson as the rounds unfolded Frampton pleased and entertained the large crowd in the stadium while carrying out his task almost perfectly.
After the fight Frampton had words of praise for the fans who were in attendance: “That was unreal. The atmosphere was special, the crowd was fantastic and they made my dream come true. It was unbelievable from start to finish.”
Attention then turned to what will come next for Frampton and it seems IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington will be his next opponent. Warrington and Frampton share the same promoter (Frank Warren) so there shouldn't be too many obstacles to this fight getting made.
“I know myself I still have it but I have to prove it with performances like that. Warrington is a different fight all together. I want it and it's an easy fight to make. It makes sense,” said Frampton when asked what was next for him.
Warrington was in the ring by this point and confirmed he is willing to face Frampton. Promoter Warren was brought into the conversation and promised that the fight was as good as signed and would happen this year.
That is for the weeks and months to come. For now Frampton (26-1-0, 15KOs) can reflect on a job very well done and bask in the satisfaction of having finally showcased his talents at his beloved Windsor Park.
TELEVISED UNDERCARD ROUNDUP
Tyson Fury continued his comeback with a shutout win over Francesco Pianeta. In a performance that polarised opinions Fury..
..went the full ten rounds as he got some much needed ring time under his belt. It was one-sided as Pianeta didn't really pressure the former unified champion, resulting in the bout having the feel of a sparring session for long periods.
Fury was able to move around and land his shots at will. Some observers weren't impressed but I think this exercise will serve Fury well before his next fight – some more rust has been shed and weighing in nearly 20lbs lighter than he did for his previous bout in June Fury is getting back towards the weight and shape he needs to be in to use his unique style to its best effect.
Speaking of Fury's next fight it seems the speculation was correct. WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder was in Belfast last night and was in the ring after Fury's fight had concluded. “It's on” were Wilder's exact words as he seemed to take over the role of promoter in confirming what was to come.
Details regarding venue and date will follow soon we were told. Wilder vs. Fury is already dividing opinion with many thinking it is too early in Fury's comeback to be facing an opponent like Wilder. I think it is an intriguing fight and give Fury every chance to win. It might not look pretty but with Fury's style and the boxer vs puncher dynamic this should be a big selling PPV on both sides of the Atlantic.
From a future WBC title showdown to one that took place last night. Their version of the flyweight crown was on the line as holder Cristofer Rosales of Nicaragua put his title up for grabs against Belfast boxer Paddy Barnes. Barnes, an outstanding amateur, was looking to get his hands on a world title in only his sixth professional outing.
It wasn't to be for the home boxer on this occasion. Rosales, despite being younger by eight years, had the experience of 30 professional bouts in his locker. This brought a calmness as he wasn't phased by Barnes' speed advantage and cultured footwork early. The champion was patient and methodical in walking Barnes down to land his powerful looking shots.
An interesting clash of styles and tactics was developing when Rosales landed a perfect right hand to the stomach of Barnes as the fourth round was entering its closing seconds. The Irishman was down and in some pain. He was unable to beat the count and Rosales had successfully defended his title.
While his world title dream wouldn't be realised on this night, Barnes needs only to look at his mate Frampton as an example of how to regroup after a loss. If he wants to he can work his way back into title contention in the 112lb division.
Watching from home on TV the event looked like a roaring success. Not even a heavy rain shower could dampen the enthusiasm of the spectators. Who knows, perhaps Frampton's night at Windsor Park won't be a one off, perhaps boxing can return to the old football stadium in the not too distant future.