Super-bantamweight world title challenger Carl Frampton sits in a chic Chelsea coffee shop sipping green tea. On September 6th he will fight Kiko Martinez in Belfast for the IBF world title, but there are still too many dates to cross off on his calendar.
The heat of the summer sun is at its peak when he contemplates another gruelling training session that awaits him in a baking gym that afternoon. The clock ticks slowest when he thinks about his family at home in Belfast. “I love London, but I am always here to work. I am here for a purpose and that’s to train for a world title. I’m not naturally the biggest fan of training, I’d rather be feeding the ducks in the sun in the park at home with my daughter, but it’s a short career and I will do whatever it takes to win this thing.”
Frampton lives a dual existence, at home in Northern Ireland he lives a simple life that involves family, childhood friends and his local football team Crusaders in North Belfast. In London, he lives with his trainer Shane McGuigan in a flat with a motley collection of other Irish boxers. It is a monastic life built around a stultifying routine of intense training and rest. Frampton is an intelligent man who normally finds escapism in books, but with a world title at stake, it can be hard to concentrate.
Last February Frampton outthought a typically aggressive Martinez and knocked out his Spanish opponent in the ninth round. He believes in that fight he gave Martinez too much respect, but understands that the squat Spaniard always has the potential to be dangerous in the ring.
“Just because I knocked Kiko out in the first fight, some people think this is a formality and I just have to turn up. That’s absolutely crazy, this is boxing and anything can happen to you. One good shot and your night is over. But equally, I know I’m a smarter fighter, if I listen carefully and execute our game plan, I have full confidence that I will win this fight.”
Against Martinez, Frampton will fight in a purpose-built arena on the old Titanic slipway in front of a fanatical capacity crowd. Frampton’s three-year-old daughter Carla will attend her first boxing fight, does she understand what her Dad does?
"She knows that I box, but to be honest when I'm fighting on TV she's more interested in switching over to Peppa Pig, but this time it's different...we honestly couldn't get a child minder for her, the whole country wants to be at this fight and I know if Carla is there, there's no way I can be stopped. Can you imagine how incredible it would be to lift her into the ring with a world title? That's my dream."
The cross-community parallels between Carl and his promoter Barry McGuigan have been stressed ad nauseam. When Frampton fights the crowd represents every part of the country, unfortunately something that is still a rarity in Belfast sporting events. Perhaps more interestingly, Frampton’s appeal extends to people who had never been to boxing before who have been won over by his warm personality and exciting style.
I tell him about my father, a scholarly barrister who had previously shown absolutely no interest in boxing, but after attending his last two fights got swept up in the intoxicating atmosphere and was insistent we go to the title fight together.
“Really? That’s lovely to hear. I have heard people are going who had no interest before and that’s great. I’m not doing anything different, at least not consciously, I’m still the same guy I’ve always been, and maybe that helps, I don’t know. The atmosphere in Belfast is always special, people love that, the whole crowd sings together so loudly and if I wasn’t fighting I’d be out having a singsong with them too.”
In the relative calm of Chelsea, it is impossible to gauge the intensity of Frampton’s fame in Belfast. He graces billboards and is stopped regularly when he is back home between fights. Frampton’s mum still works in the local supermarket and his dad in the leisure centre. He is grounded in the streets he walked as a child. He has been surprised most by the reaction of local children towards him.
“It’s quite funny, but sometimes you’ll get kids who come up to me then freeze, out of shock or whatever. It can be a wee bit embarrassing, but then you just have a bit of a joke and a laugh with them and it’s just a nice feeling for me. I was just like them once myself.”
If he is victorious against Martinez the bright lights of America surely await potentially with a lucrative fight against Mexican WBC champion Leo Santa Cruz across the Atlantic. He has already outgrown the Odyssey Arena, will Belfast soon become too small?
“I’ll never outgrow Belfast, I’m a Belfast boy and it defines everything about me. Maybe one day I’ll fight in the States, New York, Philly or Vegas, that’s certainly a long held dream, but this will always be my home, I love everything about it.”
Frampton is defined by his calmness. He listens to
before his fights and approaches the ring with apparent nonchalance. The noise of the crowd can be deafening and the expectation is always great when he comes home to fight. He is a young man of 27, how does he deal with this mentally?
“Don’t get me wrong, I get nervous and scared, I’m human. I’m never scared of being hurt, but my fear is about being beaten and letting people down. But I am lucky to have Shane in my corner, he is extremely calm and I listen to him carefully, with some trainers you don’t. They’ll say something stupid like ‘keep jabbing’, but everything he says is thought through. He’s a close friend so there’s a lot of trust there. It’s all then a case of executing the plan and I can’t be beaten.”
Frampton has been boxing since he was seven years old. He understood early in his life that he could be a world class fighter. He sacrificed the joys of running carefree in the streets as a teenager, causing frustration at 16. He wanted a normal teenage life, but realised that he possessed a rare talent that could take him all over the world.
“I was okay at school and I loved football. But boxing is the one thing that I felt I could do something incredible with it. I didn’t have that confidence in the ring with anything else in my life. It was hard at times. You give up a lot as a kid. I never realised how big it would go. I’m just about to fight for a world title, so yeah, I made the right call back then.”
Frampton famously enjoys the normally forbidden fruit of a pavlova and a short holiday after his fights. After beating Hugo Cazares he enjoyed the history of Rome, taking in the Colosseum and the Vatican with his wife Christine. This time Christine is pregnant with their second child so he has started to plan slightly further ahead.
“I don’t think we’ll get away too far, I want to try and help Christine, she always sacrifices so much for me during fights.
“You might laugh, but I would really love us to get a caravan on the north coast, near Portrush. I love it up there, we sometimes forget how beautiful this country we have is, maybe we can plan that after the fight.”
A gruelling session of weights is scheduled that afternoon and Carl excuses himself politely. He notices I have a large splint on my little finger. “Where did you get that from?” I tell him I broke my little finger playing Australian Rules football. “Brutal sport mate, be careful with it,” he smiles. For a brief moment forgetting about the punishment he is about to inflict on himself and his next sparring partner in the gym, ready for his return to his beloved Belfast.