Carl Frampton ready for one last shot at history

34-year-old will become a world champion at three weights if he beats Jamel Herring

Carl Frampton, at the age of 34, will attempt to become the first boxer from the island of Ireland to win a world title at three different weights when he steps into the ring against Jamel Herring, the WBO super-featherweight champion, in Dubai on Saturday night. Herring is a year older and both men are heading to the well for one of the last times after long and arduous careers.

Frampton has insisted that if his challenge should fail then he will retire. His remaining ambitions in boxing are to become a world champion and then fight at home in Belfast in front of his adoring fans, who have always crisscrossed the sectarian divide. If Herring beats him then Frampton concedes the game will be over because he would have to “go round the houses” to earn himself another crack at a different world title and, at his age, he is no longer willing to put his health at risk.

Defeat for Herring could also push him towards retirement. A former US marine, who suffered from PTSD after a harrowing tour of duty in Iraq, Herring has endured a testing life. The lowest moment came in July 2009 when he lost his daughter, Ariyanah, to Sids (sudden infant death syndrome). It took Herring years to recover and last summer he told me: “I still get flashbacks of her tragic death. They also come from my time at war in Iraq and when I lost my best friend, Stephen. All those negative things hit me one after the other and brought me down. My dreams turned to nightmares. I was depressed. At one point it was unbearable.”

Herring turned his life around and, 10 years later, in May 2019 he became a world champion when he won his WBO title after beating Masayuki Ito. It was a sweet triumph for, apart from his personal travails, Herring had lost twice in 2017. Fighting at lightweight he was beaten by the unheralded Ladarius Miller and Denis Shafikov. Herring was heading down a path of obscurity until those defeats forced a rethink. He dropped down a division to super-featherweight, where he immediately looked more comfortable. The past six Herring fights have ended in victory – with the most recent trio being world title contests.


Frampton is more experienced at the highest level even though their respective records – 28-2 for the man from Belfast and 22-2 for the Cincinnati champion – seem comparable. But Frampton has fought in seven world bouts and traded blows with a higher class of opponent.

I was lucky enough to be with Frampton in his dressing room on the greatest night of his career in July 2016 when, at the Barclay Center in New York, he moved up in weight to win the WBA world featherweight title against the renowned Léo Santa Cruz. It was an unforgettable fight as Frampton found incredible reserves of desire, grit and sheer skill to win a riveting battle. To witness his steely preparations, in the last lonely hours before he stepped into the ring, as well as the exhausted celebrations afterwards and on into the next day in New York were privileged moments. It also provided graphic insight into how boxing drains its great fighters.

Frampton lost the rematch six months later, on points in Las Vegas, and his career has been patchy in six subsequent bouts over the past four years. Another high, when he beat Nonito Donaire in a thrilling contest three years ago this month, was eventually overshadowed by defeat to Josh Warrington in December 2018. Frampton lasted the 12 rounds but it looked as if he was being hurt every time Warrington landed a decent shot. It was a painful defeat for Frampton, who looked a shadow of himself. He has had two routine wins over modest opposition since then, against Tyler McCreary and Darren Traynor, but Frampton promises he will be inspired against Herring.

There is much respect and even affection between the two men, and they are likely to become friends and meet up in later life. But Herring has pointed out, politely, that he has been training alongside Terence Crawford and even sparring with the WBO world welterweight champion, who is one of the top three pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Herring also has a significant height and reach advantage. At 5ft 10in (179cm), he is five inches taller than Frampton. His longer arms give him a 72-inch reach compared to Frampton's 65-inch stretch. It could be telling that, while Herring once campaigned as a lightweight, Frampton won his first world title in 2014 at super-bantam – three divisions lighter. So the American is much the bigger man.

Herring is tough and determined but he fell ill with Covid-19 last year. The mediocre and fatigued performances of fighters such as Warrington and Alexander Povetkin, who were knocked out in January and March respectively after battling with Covid last year, were worrying signs that boxers can be badly affected by the virus. Herring looked unimpressive in his last bout, when Jonathan Oquendo was disqualified in the eighth round.

Only Herring knows if he has recovered fully from the impact of the virus but, even if he has, Frampton is likely to raise himself for one last big night in the ring. It might be a hard battle for 12 rounds but he has the big-fight knowhow, an effective jab, the combinations and hurtful body punching which can wear down Herring on points. Unless time has finally eroded all these attributes, Frampton expects to make history and seal his legacy. - Guardian