IN THE midst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland there was one bright beacon of hope who united both sides of the sectarian divide as they willed him on to victory after victory in the boxing ring.
Barry McGuigan, the Clones Cyclone, won the world featherweight championship in 1985, and Belfast came to a halt when he was given a public reception in a city that was, for a short while, united behind one extraordinary man.
Next Saturday, McGuigan will be in the corner in Belfast when his protégé Carl Frampton aims to take the IBF Super-Bantamweight title from the current champion, Kiko Martinez, the Spaniard who Frampton knocked out in Belfast last year, but who surprisingly gained the world title from Colombia’s Jhonatan Romero, and has defended it twice.
The purpose-built arena in the Titanic Quarter will rock to 16,000 fans.
At 27, Frampton is too young to remember McGuigan actually fighting, but he knows what his manager did for Northern Ireland and is determined to repeat the feat.
“I’m very aware of how Barry’s career affected everyone back home,” said Frampton, “and obviously know that old saying of ‘leave the fighting to McGuigan.’ When he fought in the King’s Hall, the trouble stopped in the streets for a couple of hours. That doesn’t sound like a big thing, but back then, right in the heat of the Troubles, it was massive.
“Obviously, people are making comparisons with me and Barry and what I’m doing and saying that I go across the divide and all that. But look, I don’t mean to do that. I’m just being myself, and if people want to look at it that way, then that’s fine.
“I don’t want to alienate anyone. I know who I am and what I am, I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing. It’s all about keeping everyone involved and keeping everyone inclusive.”
McGuigan is aware of what Frampton means to the sport and the people of Northern Ireland. “Carl’s style is different to me, he’s a different guy,” said McGuigan, “but I think his attitude towards the future in Northern Ireland is very much mirrored by mine, and he just tries to make sure people come out and enjoy the boxing and get on with each other. We just thank God those sad days are gone, and we hope they’ll never return again.”
Frampton’s grandfather Hughie passed away earlier this month, but the next generation of Framptons are going to be ringside.
The boxer said: “There’s been nothing more he would have loved than to see me become world champion. After I win this title I will dedicate it to him.”
Frampton’s young daughter Carla will attend her first fight: “I know for a fact that, if my daughter’s sitting in the crowd, there’s no way I’m going to let Kiko Martinez embarrass me in front of her.”
n Paisley’s Lagoon Centre will host unbeaten Gary Cornish of Inverness on Saturday when he becomes the first Scot to attempt to win a British Heavyweight title eliminator.
Cornish faces Ian Lewison of Brixton, the Southern Area champion.
Also on the bill is an all-Scottish eliminator for the British Middleweight title, between local hero Kris Carslaw and Edinburgh’s John Thain.
Frampton vs Martinez is live on BoxNation next Saturday. Visit www.boxnation.com to subscribe.