Carl Frampton, a 34 year old former champion at Super-Bantamwright and Featherweight, will attempt to win a portion of the world title at his third weight this weekend when he tackles Jamel Herring for the American’s WBO 130 pound belt. History presents little precedent for the challenge.
Fighters at the smaller weights don’t tend to prevail chasing their youth. Reflex, punch output and speed are necessary qualities simply to compete in the lands beneath, perhaps, Welterweight, where single shot power, fight ending power tends to be rare. There are exceptions, one of boxing’s biggest superstars, Naoya Inoue, has been cracking heads from Flyweight to Bantamweight in the last few years and there were others before him, but the fights are usually won and lost with technique, busyness and the cumulation of punches.
As the old boxing adage suggests, ’34 is old for a Featherweight”.
That is the truism Frampton must dispel if he is to succeed.
Boxing has evolved, and while we have lost many of the teachers, those connected to the original masters, there is new knowledge on nutrition and preparation that attempts to compensate for the loss of wisdom dispensed by those old sages. Often, this writer’s prevailing mood will influence how significant I believe these new ‘scientists’ to be. Images of fighters stripped for weigh ins and with the physique of a biology diagram illustrates the extremes to which these new methods can stretch the human frame. Certainly, the age-old art of making weight, if art is an appropriate term for the barbarism of the past, should now be wholly redacted from a boxer’s pre-fight script.
A former British Lightweight Champion told me of the rituals he endured to make 9 stone 9. Chewing toffees and spitting out the saliva en route to weigh ins, or when he’d missed by a quarter pound or so and having to shadow box in hotel toilets with someone pressing hand driers to generate heat. And of course, not eating or drinking while waiting to step on the scales. Standing on those scales, feeling listless, empty and diminished. All common experiences in the peculiar pantomime of fight week.
Those practices haven’t been extinguished of course, but knowledge has improved and the techniques for making weight safely are now more commonly employed. In the weekend’s fight, weight is a key player. The gap from Featherweight to Super-Featherweight. No more than a hefty Christmas week for those of us of less profound inclination but a gaping chasm for prize fighters.
In a world of tiny margins, where the difference between success and failure is almost immeasurably small, four pounds is an enormous span of weight. Incoming punches will be heavier, opponents stronger and their chins more robust. The benefit for Frampton will be the strength he presumes to add with the additional weight but moreover the energy he expects to retain having not endured the pain of stripping his body to 126 pounds.
That process can preserve opportunities for fighters established in a specific division, but it can steal verve and focus too. The voyage to a target weight distracts as well as debilitates. To be able to prepare without that obsession with cutting weight is something many fighters allude to when stepping up a division. It liberated Joe Calzaghe, progressing to Light-Heavyweight at a similar age to Frampton, and Johnny Nelson too when 10 pounds was added to the cruiserweight division in 2003. Nelson had considered retirement such was the challenge of making 190 pounds.
Since his fight with Horacio Garcia in 2018 there has been evidence of decline in Frampton’s performances, the intensity of his fight with Josh Warrington was ferocious and proved a pace the then 31 year old couldn’t quite compete with. He tried, valiantly, but the youth proved too much. In between, he conquered Nonito Donaire who conceded that his own leap to Featherweight, aged 35, was a step too far against a naturally bigger man.
In later careers, fighters like Frampton can be in search of something lost. Momentum, youth, energy, speed. The edge of their prime, the one they deny to themselves has passed. A change of trainer, a change of division, change of style. All are crutches an ageing fighter will lean on to try and dispel the notion the end is near. A fact Frampton has, refreshingly, acknowledged.
The anomaly in the story, of the ageing former champion inevitably falling to the younger man, is that Herring is 35.
Less travelled as a professional fighter, less wily too but 35 all the same.
So there is hope. If Frampton succeeds, despite the fact the belt would not make him the division’s number one, it would make for a fitting finale to an incredible career.
Victory would likely journey continues. Which would be an opportunity missed too.
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