Carl Frampton bares soul in Vegas

Even in the chilly depths of low season, finding a quiet corner can be one of the biggest challenges of Las Vegas.
Carl Frampton bares soul in Vegas

After all of the hype and heat and noise of the biggest fight week of his life, Carl Frampton will tonight withdraw to a dressing room deep in the foundations of the MGM Grand’s Garden Arena and all will be quiet. Briefly.

It won’t be long before a trumpet or saxophone sounds, a deep bass line breaks the sweet silence and signals that another monumental hour in Frampton’s fighting life is now approaching. The WBA featherweight champion of the world is a throwback fighter with throwback tendencies — his choice of pre-fight music, for example.

“We’ll stick something on, some soul, to get my head moving,” Frampton says. “Where does it come from? I don’t know, I just like good music. The Isley Brothers is who I’m listening to at the minute, so probably some more of that.”

Six months ago, in the bowels of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, it was Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson who provided the soundtrack to the most stunning night of his career. Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz bore their own souls for the boxing world in a blurringly brilliant battle of wills. It was the fight of 2016.

By coming out on top — thanks to a counter-punching exhibition for the ages — the Belfast native became the fighter of 2016.

Tonight they will do it all over again. And while just six months have passed, both fighters are expecting subtle differences. Approaches will be tinkered, gameplans (particularly that of Santa Cruz) will likely be tweaked.

But for the champion, his Las Vegas debut will begin the same way as any other bout — with those soul beats.

“That’s rhythm isn’t it? I’ve always trained to soul music, I’ve always been a fan of that old school, Motown music,” says Shane McGuigan, Frampton’s trainer and mastermind of that tactical triumph in New York last summer.

“[It’s the] Isley Brothers right now, but he’s always nicking my songs. I’ve always got a playlist and he’s like ‘aw, I like this one, Stevie Wonder is it?’ It’s that funky beat.

“Being in a gym with David Haye [the former heavyweight champion who he also trains], you can’t not listen to that type of music. I really believe it helps with warming up slowly. If you listen to rock or metal, you get pumped up too early on. It takes you out of your rhythm, if you build it up slow [with] soul, you go through your motions in beat and in time.”

McGuigan’s job title is trainer. His father Barry is Frampton’s manager. But in the pre-fight moments, the roles will switch up. McGuigan Sr’s voice becomes more prominent. Here in the city that he surrendered that same WBA belt to Steve Cruz 31 years ago, there is no escaping the sense that this leg of the incredible journey mentor and protege have been on means even more. That’s why son will become manager.

“It’s one of those things, dad’s very motivational, very intense. He’s been there. I’ve never boxed as a professional, never mind won titles and been a hall of famer.

“So for him to have that experience, you can’t buy it,” McGuigan says.

“But he also burns people out early on, burns them out with nervous energy. Carl is a completely different character so I keep dad away, drip feed him throughout the day. The last 30 minutes you bring that in, get hyped up, your nerves start going but it’s a good nervous energy. It’s not being scared, it’s being excited.”

Excitement has built all week in the desert, upwards of 5, 000 fans crossing the Atlantic in hope and expectation of another classic and another glorious ending for the man from Tiger’s Bay. The sense is they won’t be disappointed.

Santa Cruz is a phenomenal fighter, a three-weight world champion who had never tasted defeat in his life until he crossed paths with Frampton. The Mexican enjoys the same height and reach advantage he did that night but has promised to use them more efficiently, having thrown over 1, 000 punches in 36 minutes in Brooklyn.

While one judge in New York scored the first fight a draw, it was clear to all other eyes that the Jackal had been superior. His gifts have hardly diminished in the intervening time, with both the champion and his trainer signalling that his second career outing at featherweight will signal a newfound belief in his power too.

“If you look at some of the stuff that has been said about the first fight, I want to prove that it wasn’t a fluke, I want to prove that I’m a better fighter,” says the 29-year-old.

“I want to prove that all these awards I picked up at the end of the year are justified.

“I have the psychological edge. I’ve already beaten this guy, I’ve hurt him as well... I’m just ready to go.”

Time to get that head moving then. Time for some soul.

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