Carl Frampton ended Northern Ireland’s long wait for another boxing world champion on a night to savour in Belfast last night as he pounded Kiko Martinez to swipe away the Spaniard’s title.
The 27-year-old, fighting in his home city, claimed an overwhelmingly unanimous verdict, the judges’ scorecards showing two verdicts of 119-108 and one of 118-111.
Not since Wayne McCullough made a second successful defence of his WBC bantamweight title in 1996 has Northern Ireland been able to celebrate a global boxing title fight victory.
Unbeaten Frampton, managed and promoted by former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan, had a crowd of 16,000 roaring him on at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast. McGuigan was often off his feet, showing almost as much relish for the occasion as Frampton was displaying.
Spaniard Martinez was inevitably jeered on his arrival, as he made his way through the crowd at the outdoor venue to the covered ring.
Many of those packing out the purpose-built stands had been at the city’s Odyssey Arena in February last year to witness Frampton whisk away Martinez’s European super-bantamweight belt with a nine-round victory.
This time they came in expectation of a repeat of their man swiping the IBF super-bantamweight title that 28-year-old Martinez has spiritedly pouched since that defeat.
Frampton expected Martinez to come out looking to land big shots and the second round was energetic ring warfare. At one stage there was a hint of a Martinez wobble but he came back purposefully.
A popular result looked to be on the cards as Frampton offered the greater early menace. A cut opened above Martinez’s left eye, caused by a clash of heads in which if there was an aggressor it looked to be Frampton, and that threatened to be a major factor in the outcome.
Martinez slipped early in round five and Frampton looked to take an extra shot at his prone opponent. A big right from Frampton connected and Martinez was down on the canvas, and momentum was all with the man from Tiger’s Bay, no doubt ahead on the scorecards too.
A stronger seventh round from Martinez showed he was not finished, physically or mentally. And he was protecting the cut well, while staying aggressive into the eighth round as he darted forward with urgency, planting plenty of shots into Frampton’s body, including one after the bell.
Frampton was cut too, over his right eye, and his durable opponent was looking good for the distance heading into the 11th round.
After his mid-fight dip, that was the round in which the Belfast boy imposed his authority, at one point ploughing a flurry of short-range shots into a limp Martinez.
A knock-out was feasible as Frampton commanded the final round, with Martinez doing well to stay on his feet. The bell sounded to spare Martinez any more punishment, and as Frampton was hoisted aloft by his team nobody was left in any doubt.
Next for Frampton could be lucrative unification bouts with WBC champion Leo Santa Cruz or British rival and regular WBA titlist Scott Quigg.
Frampton thanked McGuigan and dedicated the victory to his grandfather, who died recently.
“That was for my granda,” he said on Box Nation. “I love you.”
And Frampton made it clear who he wants for his next ring outing, saying: “The only man I want to fight is Scott Quigg.
“I’ll fight him in Manchester, I’ll fight him anywhere, but we’ve got options.”
The new champion gave Martinez credit for making a contest of it for a while, saying: “He was so dangerous. He’s a hard puncher.
“I haven’t seen my face yet but it feels lumpy.
“I’ve never respected a fighter as much in my life. What a fighter and what a worthy world champion.”
McGuigan, whose son Shane was savouring success as the winning trainer, generously said of Frampton: “He’s twice the fighter I was. He’s going to be something really special.”
A national hero from his fighting days, McGuigan said a fight for Frampton against Santa Cruz would offer “real gravitas”.
Frampton added on BBC Radio 5 Live: “I feel a bit emotional. It’s been a long time coming.
“It’s been a hard road and there’s been ups and downs.
“I’m glad for everyone who has ever supported me and I intend to hold onto it for a very long time.”