Even in the age of social distancing, you can scarcely swing a dead cat without hitting a boxer who doesn’t have a little resentment coming to him. Fighters are hard men with pocked histories. Boxing is known for its boozers, gamblers, junkies, abusers and general dirtbaggery. Self-promotion too often falls somewhere on the spectrum between brazenly stupid and openly racist. More battles are fought through promoters and “reporters” than between the ropes, and insecurities are broadcast on the all-access pass of social media. A fanbase suffering from a perpetual case of the red ass is blessed with the superpower of conjuring rancor from thin air — even for boxing’s good guys.
But, seriously: Carl Frampton?
What gives? Unless a tragic series of bad decisions at the tattoo parlor makes your blood boil, or you have a weird and abiding suspicion of anyone who isn’t tall enough to ride the same Six Flags roller coasters as Tom Cruise, Frampton is no one’s object of hate. He’s respectful and professional. He’s thoughtful and candid. He’s a national hero and a model citizen and spokesperson for his native Ireland.
Yet Frampton, oddly, has been a target for flak: Not enough power. No signature wins. Too slow to dodge the IKEA furniture in hotel lobbies. You can quibble with the circumstances of his most noteworthy triumphs if you like, but Frampton has bested Scott Quigg, Leo Santa Cruz and Nonito Donaire, habitually challenges himself and would have been busier these past couple years if not for some supremely fluky shit. A strange mix of doubt and antipathy surrounding Frampton’s multiple hand injuries and complaints about his wishes to face Jamel Herring at Madison Square Garden being some sort of snub of his own fans has been one helluva stretch, even for boxing fans.
So if Frampton entered Saturday’s fight with Englishman Darren Traynor at London’s York Hall with a serious deficiency of fucks to give regarding outside expectations, he could have been forgiven. (But of course, he would not be.) ESPN’s announce crew was, by its usual standards, highly critical of the house fighter. Boxing Twitter was characteristically nonplussed with the Irishman’s performance. Traynor — a little-known late-replacement opponent — hung around too long, the criticism went.
The facts, though, are indisputable: Frampton (28-2), returning from an injury-induced nine-month layoff, broke the will of a bigger man to score a 7th-round stoppage, emerged healthy and remained on track to challenge Herring for his junior lightweight title in the fall.
That doesn’t mean any of us has to pretend we witnessed a profoundly entertaining fight. Frampton started slow and, for the most part, kept on not keeping on through the early rounds against Traynor (16-4). It’s anyone’s guess whether the Irishman was scraping off ring rust, calculating range or cautiously sniffing out an unexpected opponent. Maybe, like the rest of us, he was just bored as hell. But if Frampton sensed urgency or danger at any point, it never showed. He easily slipped the clunky Traynor, and when Frampton did let his hands go — a jab here, an uppercut there, the random lead hook — he made his efforts count.
Frampton got down to business in the 6th round, more consistently taking advantage of counterpunching opportunities, finding more openings to lead with his own offense and achieving radar lock on Traynor’s midsection. Frampton waded inside for the first time against his longer-armed opponent and, according to Compubox, landed 18 power punches on the round — including a vicious left hook to the body that stretched Traynor face-down on the floor.
The Brit rose in time to beat the count and hear the bell ring to end the round — a chance for Traynor to catch his breath and reset. But moments later Frampton helped him find the fine line between bravery and lunacy, landing another liver-bruising hook that didn’t drop Traynor but finished him nevertheless. After absorbing the blow, Traynor winced, backed away and gestured at referee Michael Alexander, a mixture of disgust and relief on his face. Essentially, the fighter handled Alexander’s job for him, waving off his own fight.
If Frampton, 33, indeed meets the 34-year-old Herring next — and soon — all’s well that ends well. The converging roads each man has walked have been long. (Herring has had fights postponed after contracting coronavirus twice in recent months.) Any longer and their fight may need to be backed by the soundtrack of a carny calliope. But as it stands, boxing should welcome with open arms a matchup of true gentlemen still at, or very near, the peak of their eminent powers. No complaints.
Speaking of aggrandized levels of hate, Michael Conlan (14-0) fought on the Frampton-Traynor undercard.
Look, I don’t care to get into the whys and hows and wheretofores of anyone’s deep-seated hostility toward, say, Devin Haney or Ryan Garcia or every Eurotrash prospect who steps off the turnip truck. We all get our fill of raging xenophobia and paint-by-numbers culture wars in our everyday lives, thank you very much. At the same time, I can understand when the as-yet-unsubstantiated hype of a fighter lands on the wrong side of reasonable-minded fans. In all likelihood, that’s part of the Conlan story.
But rather than meticulously deconstruct the anti-Conlan movement, let’s just offer a quick, by-the-book recap of the Irish prospect’s work in a stoppage of Sofiane Takoucht (35-5-1).
The good: Conlan made himself hard to hit, controlled space and outclassed an experienced southpaw opponent in nearly every round of the fight.
The bad: For all of Takoucht’s purported awkwardness, the Frenchman simply isn’t very … good. You want to see a 28-year-old with Conlan’s amateur resume at least demonstrate good timing and clean punching against that level of opponent. But even after 14 pro fights, Conlan seems to be uncertain how to put his tools together.
Conlan wouldn’t be the first late-comer to the pros to rise to the level of his advancing opposition — but he’s burning daylight. The class of the featherweight division (Josh Warrington and Gary Russell Jr.) isn’t yet in decline, while the next wave (Shakur Stevenson, Emanuel Navarrete and Xu Can) is younger and already further along than Conlan.
(Carl Frampton, left; Darren Traynor, right, via)