Carl Frampton got back to winning ways at Belfast’s SSE Arena on Saturday night, the former unified world champion racking up a hard-fought victory over Horacio Garcia.
Back in front of his hometown fans for the first time in almost three years, Frampton registered a unanimous points decision to close out a tumultuous 2017.
Frampton had not boxed since losing his undefeated record to Leo Santa Cruz in January, and was pushed right to the end this time around.
Despite starting brightly, he appeared to fade in the eye of the relentless pace set by Garcia.
The lateral movement which saw the 30-year-old on top early on was all but gone in the second half of the contest, Frampton too often allowing his opponent to initiate exchanges inside and against the ropes.
Fears of a potential upset peaked in the seventh when Victor Loughlin scored a knockdown in Garcia’s favour, the referee deeming that it was a punch rather than an apparent slip which had sent Frampton to the canvas.
Thankfully for those in attendance, the Belfast man duly rallied in the closing minutes to see out the win, ringside judges giving him the nod by scores 98-93, 97-93 and 96-93.
“I don’t think I’ll be picking my own opponents again any time soon,” quipped Frampton of Garcia’s spirited challenge. “I told the team I wanted a good hard fight for my comeback, but we probably got a little more than we bargained for. But the rust is off now, that’s the most important thing, and it’s onwards and upwards for 2018.”
After a 10-month lay-off, owed in part to his protracted split from manager Barry McGuigan, the featherweight says he’s keen for new promoter Frank Warren to get him back on the title trail sooner than later.
“There’s talk that the big boys in the (featherweight) division might be tied up in the springtime, but I’ll be ready for a world title next if I have to be.
“If it turns out I have to sit on the sidelines and wait for a champion at Windsor Park in the summer, so be it. Nothing beats fighting in front of these fans and it’s great to be back.”
There was disappointment elsewhere on the card, however, as fellow Belfast man Jamie Conlan came up short in his maiden world championship bid.
A sizable pre-fight underdog, the super-flyweight found himself ultimately outclassed following an imperious showing from IBF titlist Jerwin Ancajas.
A series of heavy shots from the Filipino southpaw saw Conlan badly cut, dropped and eventually stopped during the night’s chief-supporting bout, referee Steve Gray calling a halt after 52 seconds of the sixth round.
Despite being reprimanded for low blows, Ancajas ruthlessly bludgeoned his way through proceedings, handing Conlan the first defeat of his career.
That setback came after friend and stablemate Paddy Barnes had extended his own record in the pro-ranks to 5-0, Ireland’s Olympic hero bagging the vacant WBO inter-continental flyweight title with a sixth-round annihilation of Eliecer Quezada.
In what was comfortably his most polished performance since switching codes, Barnes had far too much for the Nicaraguan and is now eager to move through the gears in the coming year.
“I’m hoping to get back out in March after I have a break over Christmas. I’d like to get out on Mick’s [Conlan] undercard in New York if I can.
“I knew from the second round when he [Quezada] went down that he didn’t want to know. I felt I didn’t really touch him, but he just wanted out. I kept backing him up and didn’t give him space to breathe and I got the job done.”
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