Carl Frampton tells Kathryn McKenna why Belfast boxing fans should expect fireworks at his April 21 showdown, his guarantee for Windsor Park, and why our politicians need to start respecting one another
Tigers Bay-born boxer Carl Frampton MBE may be about to face Filipino four-weight World Champion Nonito Donaire on Saturday, April 21, in a dramatic blockbuster bout which promises to be one of the biggest fights to take place in Belfast in recent years.
But when I ring him for a post-training session chat, down-to-earth Carl shows no signs of nerves as he chats cheerfully from his Manchester boxing camp. In fact, positively buzzing with enthusiasm, he speaks highly of his elite opponent ahead of what will be his first fight on home soil in 2018, and confirms much-talked about plans for a Windsor Park extravaganza fight are guaranteed should he win.
“This is going to be a big fight, a good fight. Donaire is in a similar situation to me in that we are approaching a stage in our careers where we can’t afford to slip up. This is an eliminator for the world title, that’s what it is. There is no need for this ‘interim’ belt title. It just adds a wee bit of glamour to it”, explains a conversational Carl. “I think there are going to be fireworks.”
Speaking passionately when the subject of Windsor Park arises, Carl says: “I have to win this fight first, but if I beat Nonito Donaire, Windsor Park is on, I have been guaranteed that.”
The community-spirited family-man, who is married to beautiful wife Christine from Poleglass in west Belfast, with whom he shares two children, Carla and Rossa, emphasises: “It would mean absolutely everything to me to fight at Windsor Park.
“I genuinely believe there is not a man in the world in the featherweight division who could beat me if I fought there. I am a proud person, I am proud of where I come from, I am proud of what the national football team are doing at the minute, I am proud of the atmosphere Windsor creates at any sporting event. I would be so proud to walk out of Windsor Park into a ring in the centre circle. I don’t think Goliath could beat me there.”
Given the huge vocal support Frampton would be ensured at Windsor, will it be difficult to find a competitor brave enough to take him on there, I ask.
“I don’t think it would be that hard,” Carl responds, and suddenly a new side of him is evident, one of decisive business acumen. “Us boxers are brave, I think people would jump at the chance. It is a professional sport, it’s a money making business. Potentially the stadium holds over 19,000, plus, maybe another 5,000 on the pitch, plus sponsorship revenue and money from BT Sport. I think we could bring the top names in the featherweight division to Belfast.
“The atmosphere that can be created in the SSE Arena is incredible, with nine thousand people - so I can’t really imagine what almost 25,000 people at Windsor Park would sound like - it would be insane.
“We’re talking small margins in boxing, and one or two per cent here or there could be the difference between losing a fight. It would be one of the highlights of my career, I’ve always said the home support definitely adds something to my game.”
The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) also announced recently that ‘The Jackal’ has become a NICIE patron and will publicly offer his support for Integrated Education.
The former world champion has long championed the benefits of integrated education and cross community events, and is renowned for his ability to unite fans across the country regardless of their religion. The announcement sees Carl join an impressive list of celebrity patrons of Integrated Education, which includes Liam Neeson and Sir Kenneth Branagh.
The humble Belfast native strongly believes Northern Ireland needs to stop seperating children based on religion from an early age. “I grew up in a pretty much 100 per cent loyalist community in Tigers Bay, I went to school with other Protestant kids in the class with no Catholics, then I went to High School, which was a Protestant school also,” he says.
“It’s well documented that boxing is a great cross-community sport. I was mixing with Catholics for a long time, since I was a kid, and other people my age weren’t getting the opportunity to do that. They were at the same school as me, and up until they were 16 years old they didn’t really get to mix with the other religion and are kind of brainwashed into thinking there is something different about them. I was lucky through boxing that it allowed me to stay away from that sort of mindset.
“I would encourage others to get more involved in cross-community sports and events. I think everything should be cross-community, I don’t think it should be seen as ‘one side’ or the other. For example, you look at boxing and people just see it as a cross-community sport. But sadly in Northern Ireland, the GAA is seen as a mainly Catholic organisation, and rugby is also seen as being predominantly played by Protestants.
“But at the end of the day, sport is sport. I think everyone should have a go and be able to play whatever they want.”
Carl added that those in government should lead by example. “I think politicians need to show more respect for one another and it needs to happen in equal amounts from both sides. We’ve got a situation where people are either blue or green, and I think it is seriously a major respect issue. There is disrespect on both sides and by politicians on either side. You should respect other people’s beliefs, whether you are from a Catholic background or a Protestant one, it is very simple.
“I do not think there is any real clever way to look at it - and I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to be Gandhi”, laughs Carl with his trademark sense of humour.
“But if people just treated one another how they like to be treated themselves, then society would be a lot better for it.”