For years, Northern Ireland has been endeared to their two weight world champion, Carl Frampton. But now the Belfast man sees his career hanging in the balance, 9 years after it all began.
For two straight nights, the SSE Arena will host a non-world title fight for Frampton, but it is more than just an Interim WBO Featherweight title at stake on Saturday.
Last time out, Frampton 24-1(14KO’s) was floored on route to an otherwise comfortable night, but that fright at the hands of Horacio Garcia has placed an air of vulnerability over the 31-year old ‘Jackal’.
And that gives a man who was once deemed invincible a great deal of confidence when the two meet in the boxing ring. Frampton is not the only one with a career at the top on the line here. Former 8-time and 5-weight world champion Nonito Donaire is himself just a single win removed from losing a world title bout.
But the difference in the pairs respective careers is that by the time Frampton was first lacing up a pair of professional gloves in Liverpool, Donaire 38-4(24KO’s) was already an established world champion, and a bona-fide pound-for-pound rising star.
It was in 2013 that Donaire seemed to lose his own air of invincibility. And since that humbling loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux, Donaire has lost both of his most significant contests since. Admittedly he has won multiple title fights in-between, but a stoppage loss to the ‘Axe Man’ Nicholas Walters and a convincing defeat at the hands of Jessie Magdaleno have signalled his long and successful career isn’t far from coming to an end.
Donaire’s last trip to Featherweight came crumbling down in 6 rounds, but Frampton is no Walters in terms of size or power. The pair stand at strikingly similar heights, while Donaire has the much longer reach. And even at 35, the ‘Filipino Flash’ has not lost all of his great speed yet.
If the timing is still there in those famous flurries of Donaire, then Frampton will be in for a long and tiring night of high paced boxing. At its best this fight could very well resemble what a New York crowd was treated to when Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz met for the first time.
A shot at the exciting young prospect Oscar Valdez is on the line, and fight fans could have no complaints as to either of these men meeting the Mexican down the line this year.
But that barn burner can wait, because Donaire vs Frampton in its own right is a fine fan-friendly clash.
Donaire will have a point to prove in the early goings, feeling he can earn Frampton’s respect from the off. Donaire will hope that Frampton settles into a comfort zone, before exploiting those odd lapses in concentration with sharp counter punches that so often leave his opponent on the canvas.
There is cause to believe Frampton will hit the canvas at some point in the fight, more than likely in the opening 6 rounds. But there is just as much chance that the favourite will return the favour in the latter stages of the bout.
Expect 12 rounds of brilliance from two men who have learnt so much in their respective careers. Donaire, not so light on his toes will begin to struggle with the fresher Frampton as the fight heads past the halfway stage.
Donaire’s accuracy and reach will catch Frampton off-balance on more than just the odd occasion, leaving good impressions in the judges’ eyes. But it will be a Frampton who slowly but surely takes control of centre ring, and from here he can boss the later rounds.
Nonito may hit the canvas late, but it shouldn’t matter either way, as Frampton edges a thriller on all three scorecards to earn his shot at redemption.
The undercard sees a much awaited bout between popular South African Zolani Tete and former long-time 2-weight champion Omar Narvaez.
Narvaez 48-2-2(25KO’s) revelled in his domination at Flyweight and Super Flyweight, before meeting and losing convincingly for the first time to Donaire at Bantamweight.
Another reign as Super Flyweight champion was torn apart when he headed to Japan to meet ‘The Monster’ Naoya Inoue, losing spectacularly in 2 rounds.
A 7th round retirement win over unbeaten Nikolai Potapov has earned him this shot at Tete’s WBO Bantamweight title.
Tete 26-3(21KO’s) has vastly improved over the years, making a name for himself on British shores when stopping Paul Butler in 8. Since then he has moved up a division, dramatically knocking out Siboniso Gonya for the title with just one single punch.
Narvaez is still capable even at 42, but at 5’2” he is just far too small for a Tete that towers nearly seven inches above him.
Many will pick the Argentinian to see out the 12 rounds, but with such little success along the way, Tete’s power and accuracy will become too much, and following a heavy knockdown he will be halted on his feet in round 6.