Barry McGuigan signed boxer Carl Frampton to ‘slave contract’, court hears

Former world champion boxer from Belfast suing ex-manager over alleged unpaid earnings

Barry McGuigan allegedly breached his managerial duties to star boxer Carl Frampton by signing him up to a "slave contract", the High Court in Belfast has heard.

Financial arrangements were kept secret from the fighter entrusting his career to someone who persuaded him he was “like a fourth son”, it was claimed.

Mr Frampton (33), a former two-weight world champion from Belfast, is suing his ex-manager for alleged withheld earnings.

Mr McGuigan denies the claims.

The multi-million pound lawsuit centres on contracts for bouts staged in Northern Ireland, England and the United States. It involves claims against Cyclone Promotions UK Ltd — of which Mr McGuigan was a director — over purse fees, broadcasting rights, ticket sales and merchandising from some of Mr Frampton’s highest-profile fights.

The two men enjoyed huge success during their time together.

Opening the case for Mr Frampton, Gavin Millar QC described how his client, then aged 22, went to live and train with Mr McGuigan’s family in Kent.

“He persuaded Mr Frampton that he was like a fourth son to him,” counsel said. But the court heard that by 2016 the once-close relationship began to break down amid concerns over the financial arrangements.

In October 2017, Mr Frampton formally split with Cyclone.

He is facing a counter-claim for alleged breach of contract over his departure.

At the centre of the action is an alleged conflict of interest over Mr McGuigan’s dual role as his manager and promoter of some fights. “The lines are blurred,” Mr Millar contended.

Mr Justice Huddleston was told that a Northern Ireland-based Cyclone company was set up in 2013, with Mr Frampton named among its directors. It was claimed that Mr McGuigan promised him a 30 per cent share of the profits as an incentive to end a previous promotional arrangement with boxing giant Matchroom and "go his own way".

“He believed what Barry McGuigan was saying to him was true, and the advice Barry McGuigan was giving at this key stage in his career as an experienced boxing man to walk away from Matchroom and promote his own fights was correct,” Mr Millar submitted. “It’s now clear that my client was mistaken.”

Outlining the alleged sequence of events, Mr Millar said there was a “strange twist in the tale” in 2015 when the Belfast fighter was presented with a new contract at a gym and offices in London.

The document, he argued, involved exclusive world-wide promotional rights for Mr Frampton’s bouts.

“To use the ... words of Barry McGuigan’s memoir, it’s pretty much a slave contract with all the rights to promote Mr Frampton’s career for three years being signed away on the spot by the boxer,” he said.

Some of the conditions within it were “risible”, the barrister said.

Serious cracks in the relationship emerged after Mr Frampton defeated rival Scott Quigg in Manchester in February 2016. He realised members of the McGuigan family and associates were allegedly seeking expenses through the Cyclone company, the court heard.

An attempt was made to claim £75,000 worth of travel and subsistence following one US fight, according to Mr Millar. He claimed bills from supermarkets, coffee shops, restaurants, petrol stations and Spanish hotels had also been submitted.

During the summer of 2017 the taxman attended Mr Frampton’s home seeking £397,000 in unpaid VAT from the Northern Ireland-registered Cyclone company.

“Needless to say, he resigned he directorship when this happened.”

In the witness box, Mr Frampton began testifying about meeting Mr McGuigan and their early years together.

Asked if his former manager ever spoke to him about a potential conflict of interest, he replied: “No.”

Mr Frampton added: “Anything I signed was on trust.”

The case continues.