Carl Frampton is Ireland's best ever fighter, it's time we started acting like it

So strong was the narrative surrounding Conor McGregor’s recent occupation of New York that one could be forgiven for pegging him as a pioneer.

Carl Frampton is Ireland's best ever fighter, it's time we started acting like it

By Ronan Mullen

So strong was the narrative surrounding Conor McGregor’s recent occupation of New York that one could be forgiven for pegging him as a pioneer.

The Dubliner’s annihilation of champion Eddie Alvarez oozed machismo, after all, the verbal volleys which followed akin to those of a man apart.

UFC’s first ever two-weight titlist bestrode Madison Square Garden like Neil Armstrong did the moon. This was the new frontier. Supposedly.

McGregor’s cult of personality has always been built on such tenets of innovation, his brand sold on the basis that every summit he scales is a virgin peak.

And while much of his journey to this juncture has seen him go where nobody has before, a modern-day Magellan he ain’t.

Ireland’s path to America's east coast was already well-worn by the time he embarked upon it.

Indeed, it was 1899 when Dundalk’s Tom Sharkey contested the Heavyweight Championship of the World, his Coney Island clash with James Jeffries the first fight ever filmed for use in a motion picture.

Careers aplenty were built atop that blazed trail, from McCullough and Duddy to Macklin and Lee.

Indeed, just three months prior to McGregor’s march on Manhattan, Belfast’s Carl Frampton was busy putting lighting in a bottle across the street.

A Brooklyn barnburner versus three-division king Leo Santa Cruz saw to that, Frampton dethroning the unbeaten Mexican to capture his third world title in as many years.

The victory saw him row in behind Steve Collins as only the second Irishman to rack-up championships in multiple weight classes.

It proved a coming of age not only for Frampton but for the fighting family he had represented since his teens. Seven years after defeating David Oliver Joyce for the National featherweight title, the boy from the Bay had a global gong to match.

If the adulation which swept across the Atlantic in November resembled a social media storm, coverage of Frampton’s big night in Brooklyn barely registered a ripple.

It was a silence as bemusing as it was deafening, and yet it felt like we’d been there before.

After all, scarcely a week prior to McGregor’s loss against perennial nearly-man Nate Diaz, The Jackal was making history.

An away win over bitter rival Scott Quigg saw him became Ireland’s first unified champion, Frampton relieving the Bury native of both his belt and his unblemished record.

Plaudits duly followed, but column inches remained elsewhere.

Indeed, while McGregor set about tossing toys from the pram during what amounted to a rogue retirement, Frampton was busy throwing caution to the wind.

Ink had hardly dried on his Quigg cheque by the time the bout with Santa Cruz was signed and sealed. The Ulsterman, by all accounts, is not one for treading water.

A la McGregor/Diaz II, Vegas is the venue for tonight’s sequel. From Frampton’s perspective, the comparisons are likely to end there.

"For combat sports at home we’re probably the top two, but McGregor stands alone,” reflects the 29-year-old. “He is a huge name all over the world. He is a massive star who I admire a lot but I am pretty happy with what I am doing and the fan base I’ve got.”

"We are completely different characters but Conor is doing his thing and seems to be great with it, so why not? He’s never attended a fight of mine but he’s sent me a few video messages privately just to wish me luck. He has this persona, but he’s playing the game and fair play to him. He’s a good guy.”

Few would begrudge that assessment. The ‘Notorious’ strand of McGregor’s character is long since understood, his promotional alter ego akin to that of a comic book villain.

The story of the man behind the mask has been told a million times over, too, the narrative of ‘coy Crumlin kid done good’ one with which we’re wholly familiar.

Frampton’s rags to riches tale remains rather less pronounced on this side of the border, his transcendence of socio-political boundaries a footnote to the McGregor opus.

But where our media has been feint in its praise, the boxing community at large has emerged as altogether more fulsome.

That 2016 saw Frampton dubbed Fighter of the Year by every reputable outlet speaks to that end, Ring Magazine chief among them.

Indeed, it was Andy Lee who this week equated that particular honour to winning an Oscar for Best Actor. Fitting, then, that Frampton once more finds himself playing the lead on boxing’s brightest stage.

It’s high time Ireland stopped casting him in a supporting role.

Coverage of Carl Frampton vs Leo Santa Cruz begins at 1am on Sky Sports.

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