Two-weight world champion Carl Frampton has vowed not to abandon Belfast for the United States after registering a victory that could help him become “the greatest Irish fighter there’s ever been”.
The former super-bantamweight champion claimed the WBA featherweight belt on Saturday by outclassing holder Leo Santa Cruz to win a majority verdict at New York’s Barclays Center.
That made him the first Northern Irishman to claim a world title in two divisions, crowning the 29-year-old as a star name of the sport and one of his country’s most decorated athletes.
His manager Barry McGuigan won the same belt 31 years ago and did not hold back in his assessment of Frampton’s status. “I genuinely believe this kid will go on to be the greatest Irish fighter there’s ever been,” he said.
“Tonight was the greatest night of his life. It was a spectacular performance.”
A badly bruised Frampton, on his first outing at 126lbs, beamed with pride after winning 116-112 and 117-111 on two of the judges cards and drawing the other.
“I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet. That’s going to be a fight that defines part of my career,” he said. “I’ve just made history. I’ve beaten an unbelievable fighter in Leo Santa Cruz – a three-weight world champion – and it was the toughest fight of my career.
“I made it a bit harder than I needed to at times. I fought with my heart rather than my head at times but I wanted to be involved in one of those fights and I think people will remember that for a very long time.”
And while he admits the bright lights of the Big Apple are a major draw, he pledged to remain true to his roots by continuing to compete regularly in his native Ulster. He has boxed six times at Belfast’s Odyssey Arena, once at the Titanic Quarter and dreams of appearing at Windsor Park, where he is a regular visitor to watch Northern Ireland’s football team.
“I’m just a normal, working-class guy who can fight a wee bit. That’s it,” he said.
“I want to fight here [in the US] and I want to fight at home. I’m a Belfast boy and I love my fans back home.
“I don’t want for them to have to spend so much money to come here and see me all the time. I would like to fight in Belfast at least once a year.”
A Santa Cruz rematch on home soil is an option for Frampton, who is also considering other options, including Welshman Lee Selby.
“I don’t think there’s a rematch clause in place, but it would be a great fight, one I’d be happy to do,” he said.
“I’d love to bring him over to Belfast. We could sell out a stadium, but we’d need the right time of year.
“Lee Selby is a great fighter, someone I respect and one of the best UK fighters. That’s a fight that interests me, there’s Gary Russell, all these guys.
“I just want to be involved in big fights, memorable fights. I don’t need to be disrespectful to guys, I just want to get on with it.”
Asked if he was now the poster boy for Irish combat sports, Frampton deferred to UFC fighter Conor McGregor but aimed a playful comment in Tyson Fury’s direction.
He said: “I’m up there, but it’s hard to surpass Conor McGregor, he’s a pretty big name.
“Tyson Fury? Is he Irish or English or what? He is what he wants to be it seems. He supported England at the Euros.”