Boxing

I did think: ‘Kiko is doing this, maybe I could...' Carl Frampton considered comeback after Martinez world title win

Watching an old adversary step back onto the big stage did make Carl Frampton wonder whether he still had anything left in the tank but, as Andy Watters found out, a spot of light training soon put those thoughts to bed...

New IBF World champion Carl Frampton celebrates after beating Kiko Martinez in the Titanic Quarter. Pic Ann McManus.

HE admits it was “half-a-joke” but Carl Frampton did consider making a comeback when his old adversary Kiko Martinez won the featherweight title last November.

At the age of 35 and in his 17th year as a pro, Martinez shocked the world by sparking out Kid Galahad in his native Sheffield and won a coveted IBF belt for the first time since he'd lost to Frampton in Belfast back in 2014. Frampton, who had also beaten the Spaniard in 2013, was thinking ‘trilogy' when he pulled on his trainers and hit the road before Christmas to test his fitness.

A couple of kilometres down the road, he'd decided to leave his boxing boots under the bed.

“I did think: ‘Kiko is doing this, maybe I could?'” says Frampton.

“But then I thought: ‘Nah' and I shut it down. I went out for a 5k run and I couldn't walk for a couple of days after it. I was tired and I had a sore groin for a few days so that was enough; that was enough for me.

“Kiko is unbelievable. Look at the shape of him! He's still a wee beast and he's obviously completely dedicated to the sport and he trains very hard and doesn't take much time off and there are people like that, people who just have the buzz and they want to do it. I think Kiko could be somebody who'll continue to train at a frenetic pace even when he does eventually retire – he'll probably be doing five sessions a week when he's 50 but that's not me.

“We're different characters but I was delighted for him.”

So that's all folks, he won't be coming back. He had a dozen years in the ring that delivered world titles at super-bantamweight and featherweight on glory nights in front of packed houses in Belfast, England and the USA.

Does have any regrets? Looking back, maybe there are things that could have been done differently: The Leo Santa Cruz trilogy fight that slipped away, a chance missed against Josh Warrington...

He starts with the party line: “I don't really have regrets, I did what I did and that was it…”

But then, in typical fashion, he gives the honest answer.

“Och well, I suppose I do,” he says.

“The first part of my career was the McGuigans and I don't want to say too much in case I get into trouble but I'd have liked to have been a bit more of a man… You know, my own man around them. I kind of changed a wee bit and that's a big regret I suppose.

“I wish I could have been a bit more of an adult who could make decisions and speak to people, that's all really.”

He's being too hard on himself there. How could his growing stardom and achievements not have changed a young fella from Belfast back then? Barry McGuigan and his sons were the dream-weavers and for a while the collaboration was a spectacular success; a rollercoaster ride that gathered speed and momentum through wins against Martinez, Jeremy Parodi and Hugo Cazares before he dethroned “wee beast” Martinez again to win the IBF super-bantamweight title at a purpose-built stadium on the Titanic Slipway. Will we ever see a night like that again?

From there it was on to Manchester where he broke down Scott Quigg and then New York where he did the same to Santa Cruz to become Ireland's second two-weight world champion and the first from the North.

That night in Brooklyn was the pinnacle and the end came in Dubai last April when Frampton was stopped for the first and only time in his career by former US Marine Jamel Herring.

He deserved a better send-off. One more night at the Odyssey would have been perfect, the chance for a packed house to salute their hero and to see his hand raised in victory one last time but boxing doesn't do testimonials.

“I was dead happy with the camp,” he said.

“I hardly last a round of sparring in the camp against very good fighters. I was really on it but what I learnt was that fighting and sparring are completely different. It's alright doing it in the gym with big gloves and a headguard on but I just wasn't the same fighter that I used to be and that's what happens when your body starts to break down and you get older. That's what happens to me.

“Some people like Kiko seem to be able to go on and on but I'm just different, I started to fall apart towards the end. I don't know what you put that down to: Maybe the hard stuff I did in the first part of my career? Maybe lack of stretching until I had to stretch? You get away with these things for a while and recovery was something I neglected in the first part of my career and I focussed on it in the second part of my career only because I needed to recover a little bit more. When you're younger you get away with those things.

“It was a combination of things but age was the main one – you're a fraction slower than you used to and that's the big difference at the high end of sport.”

Thoughts of a comeback might suggest otherwise, but he insists that he has settled quickly into retirement and he is still around boxing as a pundit on BBC 5Live and BT Sport.

Hanging up the gloves meant spending time with his family and of course preserving his faculties and his health.

“That's something I thought about at the end and in the last few years because in the first part of my career I sparred very heavily,” he said.

“Hopefully I'm alright – you never know until a few years down the line but I feel ok at the minute and hopefully it stays that way.

“That was definitely something that I thought about towards the end. I used to do 200-plus rounds in camp which is insane when you think about it and I took that down to 70 rounds towards the end which is probably the average for most.

“It's still a lot though and I started to spar people my own weight and people lighter than me which was something I'd never done – I was always sparring big guys. I was always conscious of that but it is what it is. I did it my whole life and I'm alright now.”

Since Frampton's retirement, Mick Conlan has stepped into the breach and kept the flame alive with a spectacular show at Falls Park last year. Frampton intends to be in Nottingham in March to cheer Conlan on against WBA featherweight champion Leigh Wood.

“I appreciated the fanbase I had at the time but I appreciate it even more now,” he says.

“I don't want to harp on about it all the time but the support I had was better than most and it's still something that I'm extremely proud of. I still have people coming over to me in the street and talking about the fights they were at.

“It was a big deal to me then and it still is.

“Mick is obviously very well supported too but there are other kids bubbling in the background.

“If Tommy McCarthy gets the rematch with Chris Billam-Smith (CBS) and beats him, which I would expect him to do, then he becomes British, Commonwealth and European champion in one fight and on the verge of a world title.

“You've got Caomhin Agyarko who is a really exciting prospect who just signed with Eddie Hearn, you've got Lewis Crocker and Tyrone McKenna is always in a good fight. There are opportunities to have big shows here but, excluding Mick, there's no-one who's really going to sell out the Odyssey on their own yet.

“You could have Caomhin and Tommy on a bill and one of the big-name Matchroom fighters on the top of the bill and people would come out to watch that. I'd be excited to see that.”

Last July he was in McCarthy's corner for the first fight against Billam-Smith which brought him back into contact with Shane McGuigan (Billam-Smith's trainer) and Barry who was cheering on the Englishman enthusiastically at ringside.

“Tommy asked me to do that and I suppose it was to wind a few people up but it was also to help him and give him a bit of advice,” says Frampton.

“Pete Taylor is his cornerman but I was very energetic in the dressingroom and in the corner and it's easy to listen to someone who has been there and done it and can tell you: ‘It's going to get hard and you need to get tough…' He liked it and he wants to have me back when he's fighting and I'd be delighted to do it.

“Training fighters at this point… It's not the right thing for me but I don't mind giving advice and helping people out and if anybody needed me in their corner for a night that would be no problem.”

No comeback but the next generation of Irish fighters can benefit from his knowledge and experience. Exciting times ahead.

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Boxing