By: Oliver McManus
A night of unprecedented drama, history and patriotism saw Carl Frampton challenge Josh Warrington for the IBF Featherweight Championship of the World. The Manchester Arena was the venue for this sumptuous all-British title fight but you’d be forgiven for thinking we were in Belfast, such was the atmosphere.
Warrington, confident as ever, entered the ring with a determination to forever erase the ‘underdog’ tag and, to be fair, bought a fair crowd from Leeds with him. Walking to the music of the Kaiser Chiefs, the passion from the Leeds man was clear to see. One of the most keenly anticipated fights of the year, of recent memory, this was not merely Warrington vs Frampton but a case of fighting cities going up against each other.
The first bell sounded at just after 10.30pm and Frampton immediately took to the centre of the ring. Rocking on the balls of his feet, the Northern Irishman kept his left hand out in trademark fashion. Warrington began with his hands high, head tucked behind, and landed some serious shots within the first round to send Frampton stumbling backwards.
Springing the surprise from behind his guard, Warrington pushed forward on his lead foot, forcing Frampton backwards as the champion sat down on his shots, targeting the body of his challenger. Frampton doubled up on the jab but, almost immediately, Warrington return with a flurry to the body. Every shot seemed to toll the body of Frampton who, let’s not disregard, landed some high quality shots of his own.
Round two began with Frampton returning to the ring, unperturbed by the ferocious start being made by his counterpart. Warrington, possessing the reach advantage, was beating The Jackal to the punch, out-jabbing throughout the early stages. Forcing Frampton to cover up, Warrington simply refused to stop swinging as he landed with alarming consistency, digging deep to the sides of Frampton. The pain on the face of the former unified champion was clear to see but the grit showed to hang in, despite constant pressure, was phenomenal.
Fighting like a man possessed is an accurate depiction but, let’s be clear, Warrington was not reckless. He was in control, biding his time before looking to push his case. The third round produced a similar story albeit with a slower rhythm. Frampton emerged unscathed but it was Warrington who sustained the pressure. An opportunity for Frampton to regroup and secure a foothold in the fight after a bumpy, bumpy opening two rounds.
Admirable consistency saw Frampton return to the centre of the ring in the fourth round and, after a hurricane-like start from Warrington, he began to relax into a rhythm of his own. Measuring the distance well with that lead left of his, he was able to find his range easier and land some noteworthy shots of his own. More measured, in terms of tempo, Frampton returned to the basics that had served him well throughout his career.
A tempting jab set up the hook to the body. Whilst Warrington still had pockets of success, funnily enough, in the pocket, Frampton seemed better-equipped to navigate through them than in rounds previous.
The fifth round saw Warrington looking to up the tempo, yet again, and bully Frampton into submission. Both men landed some superfluous left hands and whilst the weight of the punches came from the challenger, the Champion had more eye-catching aggression and damage infliction.
Back in the sixth and Warrington looked to engage in a firefight once more. With 40 seconds to go, Frampton was forced backwards onto the ropes as the Leeds warrior set off on another crazy flurry. The challenger jostled his way the correct side of the ropes and began to work the body, himself, but a round for the Champion, you’d imagine.
Just past the halfway stage and, already, this fight had it all. The makings of an all-time classic. Neither man gave quarter as they met at the centre of the ring, slinging shots towards the body of one another.
Frampton dug deep in the 8th, looking to enforce his own power onto the fight. A significant exertion of energy that had results, Warrington caught by heavy shots but not looking entirely troubled. Every time The Jackal landed strong shots, Warrington returned fire with a courageous salvo of his own. Toe-to-toe combat, a sensational fight.
Round nine lulled you into a false sense of security, starting off slower with both men visibly sore around the body. Despite the lessoned pace the quality of work was still there from each fighter. Frampton landed, arguably, the better punches but Warrington refused to yield ground. Frampton would have to TEAR this belt away from the Champion.
After such a gruelling encounter it would come as no surprise that fatigue looked like setting in during the championship rounds. But both these men are championship fighters and they continued to engage in an enthralling fight. Warrington, undoubtedly, the fresher fighter turned the screw and landed some flush shots that saw Frampton scamper towards the ropes.
At no point could you say Frampton boxed poorly, save for a shell shocked couple of rounds, but Warrington – as he did against Lee Selby – produced something on another level.
The final round began with a sterling display of respect. Both fighters, supremely talented, had produced a simply sensational fight. Warrington continued to look the fresher man but Frampton made no bones about the position he found himself in. The former champion looked to land quality shots of his own, as he always does, boxing for quality. Warrington, defending champion, bounced on his toes and landed the more youthful, sprightly combinations. Questions raised, before the fight, about whether this fight would live up to expectations were firmly put to bed.
What can possibly be said but, WHAT. A. FIGHT. Frampton produced high-quality punches but was beaten by a younger, hungrier fighter who just refused to give in. A man forever an underdog came out and shut the critics right up. If ever Josh Warrington is called an underdog again then something is seriously wrong with the sport.
After 12 epic rounds, the fight went to the scorecards 116-113, 116-112, 116-112 in favour of Josh Warrington who retains the IBF Featherweight Championship of the World. Josh Warrington, what more can you say? The perennial underdog turned British great.
In the co-main event, Mark Heffron and Liam Williams took to the ring for the vacant British middleweight title; Williams, moving up in weight, stood on the scales the heavier man, both of them looked in impressive physique.
Liam Williams, who partnered up with Dominic Ingle earlier this year, started off as the livelier boxer with a perpetual jab to showcase his technical abilities. Circumnavigating the ring constantly, Williams looked laser-focussed as Heffron found himself unable to get past the jab of his counterpart.
Heffron, himself, looked busy in the footwork but seemed to be finding difficulty in placing his shots. With intentions to load up on the left hand, he was frequently scuppered by the well timed jabs of WIlliams. A couple of head-clashes in the second round seemed to spark a bit of spite in Heffron – who’s right eye was nicked in the process – with the Oldham man still searching for his rhythm.
The third round brought more of the sound with Williams, whose two losses come at the hands of Liam Smith, looking to focus on out-boxing his man as opposed to brawling in the pocket. The pace of the fight was being dictated by the Welshman, not only in through shot-selection but in terms of movement as well.
Almost a forgotten man over the course of 2018, as harsh as it sounds, Williams was pecking away with his jab, a vintage performance began to unfurl from him. Stalking his man, often from the outside of the ring, it was the former British Super Welterweight champion that racked up the rounds with consummate ease. Heffron, meanwhile, seemed reluctant to force the tempo and experiment with punches.
It wasn’t purely a case of out-boxing Heffron, The Machine landed heavy right hands to keep Heffron in check with more shot variety coming from the Clydach Vale fighter. Heffron, who prepared for this fight with Liam Smith, appeared to be on the wrong side of a boxing lesson. Williams maintained at range to force Heffron to reach into his shots. Whilst a low-blow in the 8th prompted a telling off for the Welshman, he continued to land the superior punches.
The final third of the fight loomed with Heffron, seemingly, needing a knockout to prevail in his quest for the British belt. Williams continued to piece together lovely combinations but Heffron, to his credit, looked more willing to push the punches. Targeting the body, Heffron began to find WIlliams with a degree of regularity, working his way into the pocket.
A ferocious, lurching left hook clattered Heffron into the ropes with a standing eight count following. Williams sensed blood in the water and went for the kill, hitting Heffron at will with a series of punches landing square to the face. The head of Heffron began to bounce backwards with venom as the accurate punches of Williams failed to relent. Howard John Foster jumped in, understandably, at 1.55 of the 10th round. Liam Williams, the new British middleweight champion, thanks to the best performance of his career.
The extended undercard saw Martin Murray looking to force himself back into world title contention. A win over, former champion, Hassan N’Dam would do just that but the French-Cameroonian had ambitions of his own to return to title contention. The St Helens fighter, a pre-fight favourite, started off slower than expected but dropped N’Dam in the fourth. With that it looked as though Murray may, perhaps, ease into his rhythm but N’Dam persevered with the slicker work.
An underwhelming performance from Murray matched by an impressive one from N’Dam saw the decision go to the away corner, 117-112, 116-112 and 114-114. N’Dam moves back into the title mix, for Murray it’s a question of how much belief he still has. A glittering career, no doubt, but perhaps the final curtain?
Nathan Gorman started off fast in his first, scheduled, 12 rounder with Razvan Cojanu in the opposite corner. Scheduled to face Alex Leapai, Cojanu filled the spot when Daniel Dubois withdrew from their respective encounter and Leapai, also, pulled out. Gorman started off in keeping with his age, fast with the hands and landing significant shots. After round six, the 22 year old fought at a noticeably slower pace and began to box with repetition. Leading with the left hook as opposed to the jab, a tad more variety would have been nice but, regardless, Gorman looked mature beyond his years. Victory by scorelines of 119-109, 119-109 and 120-108.
Michael Conlan boxed for his first title, the WBO Inter-Continental Featherweight title, against Jason Cunningham. Cunningham, a former Commonwealth champion, came into the bout a live threat but was nullified by the counter-punching of Conlan. In only his second fight on British soil, Michael Conlan looked within himself throughout the contest and boxed really nicely. A point deducted in the sixth, for repeated low blows, the only blemish on an, otherwise, beautiful performance. Michael Conlan jumps into the world rankings via a win by 98-92, 97-92 and 97-92. Well deserved.
A fight for the ages, forget the hype surrounding a certain heavyweight match down at the O2, this was boxing as it should be. Pure, relentless passion. Carl Frampton, take a bow. Josh Warrington, take a bow. SImply sensational.