The old magic was back on Saturday night in Belfast when Carl Frampton boxed glorious rings round Nonito Donaire in a flawless display that often resembled choreography.
Little Carl fell out of love with boxing last year when his first defeat rattled him and several hostile calamities away from the ring looked like putting an early end to his career. “It’s been a hard time,” admitted Frampton, who has a court case with his former promoter, Barry McGuigan, looming. “I needed my best, I had to be sharp - it was a simple display, I had to be disciplined in every round.”
Boxers in similar circumstances often fall terribly short when they are fighting for their lives with a head full of awful distractions. Frampton put on a masterclass in front of his devoted flock to end any doubts about his future, any suggestions his best nights are over and any wild notion that he is an easy touch for anybody.
During the last decade Donaire has been one of the sport’s finest tiny battlers, holding versions of world titles at five different weights and dazzling often enough in big fights to secure a legacy during his career. “Carl is a great fighter, smarter than I thought and it was an honour to share the ring with him,” said Donaire, who confirmed he will drop back down in weight. “Carl is like a wall, man, so tough - that shocked me.”
Frampton insisted he had a new friend for life - it was a rare and humbling experience to watch the pair in the solitude of their dressing rooms swapping tender embraces.
Once the fight started Frampton’s feet often moved with such controlled beauty, his fists then slotted perfectly behind the gloves Donaire offered as leather resistance. The fighting was seamless, finding a lovely rhythm from distance and up close - a spot boxers call the “pocket” - and each connected on exposed targets in textbook exchanges. It was a joy to watch from my privileged position at ringside.
Donaire, at 35 but still looking 21, was dangerous from the first until the last bell and in round eleven staggered Frampton, who fell forward, hurt and stumbling for a second or two. It was quality boxing and the decision, wide for Frampton, confirmed the masterclass, an expression used too often and lazily in a sport now dominated by far too many one-dimensional but popular power punchers; a night of purity is always a delight.
Frampton held world titles at super-bantamweight and featherweight and beating Donaire means he gets another shot, at home again, when he fills Windsor Park in August. The world title fight will happen, it will be sold out instantly and the opponent will be named in the next 28 days. “That was class tonight,” said Frank Warren, the promoter, who genuinely looked happy, even moved, at the end of the emotional night. “I will get him a world title fight - there are options, I will deliver. Carl and the city deserve it.” Frampton won the WBO’s interim featherweight title, a temporary belt because Oscar Valdez, the full champion, has a broken jaw and is unable to fight; a fit Valdez is an August option.
Meanwhile, at the same time but in a very different boxing universe the ring exile of Amir Khan, just twelve weeks older than Frampton, was over in just 39 seconds. Khan has not fought in 23 months, he lost that fight by sickening knockout and in Liverpool he walked through Phil Lo Greco, a willing opponent, a fall guy with the right credentials, who had concocted a half-hearted insult about Khan’s marriage a couple of months ago. That was bad pantomime, the punches Khan landed were not funny and Lo Greco was hurt at the end. The plan now is Khan against Kell Brook, another outdoor fight in a packed British summer, once the debate over the fight’s weight can be magically resolved. It will be, there is too much money and ancient hostility between the pair.
However, the boxing business needs to make sense going forward and it is crucial the sun sets over both rings this summer on different Saturday nights. Khan and Brook will be a fun event and Frampton for a world title in his hometown will be simply irresistible; two fights that will get made but, please, not on the same night.