Carl Frampton ready for another step into the unknown against Mexican Andres Gutierrez
THE faint stench of the Stone Roses’ afterglow hung in the air at the Europa Hotel yesterday, a matter of hours after Ian Brown, Mani, Reni and Squire departed the stage at the SSE Arena on the other side of town.
Probably around 200 fans filed into the Grand Ballroom for the announcement of Carl Frampton’s next fight, quite a few apparently feeling worse for wear after a night on the tiles celebrating Manchester’s finest.
A huge billboard behind the main table confirmed the July 29 clash with Mexican Andres Gutierrez – but, for those packed inside, was this the one they’d waited for?
Well, not really.
When word first started to circulate the previous evening about Frampton’s prospective opponent, Irish Google searches of ‘Andres Gutierrez + boxer’ must have gone through the roof.
Hopes of a star attraction like Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares or Lee Selby faded week by week, and not through a lack of trying on the part of Frampton or his team at Cyclone Promotions.
Other names came and went as speculation see’d and sawed, but the little-known Gutierrez – ranked 11 by the WBC at super-featherweight and 14 in the IBF at 126lbs – wasn’t mentioned in dispatches.
Yet here he was in Belfast, slicked back hair and suited up, looking big at the weight six weeks out from fight night.
“I’d say looking at him he wouldn’t be a kick in the arse off 11 stone,” observed Frampton, peering through the press pack as his opponent talked the talk down the line.
For months ‘The Jackal’ has been forced to give non-committal answers to questions about his next move, insisting only that he wouldn’t be fighting “some no mark”.
With a record of 35 wins, one loss and one draw, scoring 25 KOs along the way, Gutierrez doesn’t quite fall into that category.
However, if there was a sub-section for potentially dangerous unknowns, that is where you might find a man who come-forward style has been likened to another former Frampton foe, Kiko Martinez.
The 23-year-old has only fought twice outside his native country, his one flirtation with the fringes of the world scene ending with a controversial majority decision defeat to Christian Mijares. The Mexican veteran has lost eight of his 66 fights, and dropped a wide unanimous decision against Santa Cruz three years ago.
Beyond that, it is hard to read too much into Gutierrez’s record.
“He’s one of the most avoided fighters in the featherweight division,” said Frampton’s manager, Barry McGuigan.
“He was the same at super-bantamweight – Santa Cruz didn’t want to fight him. His only loss, he didn’t lose that fight.
“He’s a dangerous fighter. This is a fight where Carl needs to be at his best.”
Yet ‘The Jackal’ need not look too far into his own past to find a cautionary tale.
His 2015 showdown with the little-known Alejandro Gonzalez jr in El Paso was a stark wake-up call.
Dropped twice inside the first round, Frampton was all at sea. Struggling to get going on a spongy ring surface, Gonzalez jr was landing chopping right hands at will.
As champions do, he regained his composure to dominate the fight from the third round on, but notice had been served.
Frampton admitted he took Gonzalez lightly – yesterday he vowed never to make the same mistake again.
By quirk of fate, the Tigers Bay fighter yesterday revealed that Gutierrez had also been in the frame for his American debut before Gonzalez jr got the nod.
Having mixed solely in elite company since that scare in the desert – once against Scott Quigg before twice going toe-to-toe with Santa Cruz in America – this is a different, but no less tricky, challenge for Frampton.
Firstly, he is coming off his first defeat. How a fighter reacts to that can make or break careers.
Secondly, when ‘The Jackal’ comes to the ring on July 29, he won’t see one of the flagship names in the division staring back from the opposite corner.
Psychologically, whipping yourself up for a fight against an up-and-coming talent like Gutierrez asks a whole host of different questions than knowing you are going in against somebody at the top of their game.
The fact Frampton is back on home turf is a huge factor that cannot be overlooked. Against Gonzalez, he was fighting in front of two men and a dog in the middle of the desert at three in the afternoon.
On July 29 the SSE Arena will be packed to the rafters with his own supporters, demanding a performance to mark a triumphant homecoming and a victory that bangs the drums for a return to the world stage where he belongs.