The featherweight division has provided a platform for many of British boxing’s most noted prize fighters.
From Jim Driscoll a century ago, who lost much of his prime to the First World War, to Welshman Howard Winstone in the 1960s and the egotistical Prince Naseem Hamed of the 1990s, the 126-pound weight class has been rich in world-class operators from Great Britain.
On Saturday night, at the raucous Manchester Arena, two more British featherweights will seek to carve their names alongside their prestigious predecessors.
Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton fills the role of challenger, despite his greater experience and deeper resume, to Josh Warrington’s champion (7/4 to win with Coral).
It is a clash which seemed an idle fantasy when Frampton fought and beat Leo Santa Cruz in New York in the summer of 2016 to become a two-weight World Champion. The Santa-Cruz win was that rarest of triumphs for a British fighter; a victory over a world-class opponent still in his prime.
A meandering path since, in which Frampton, (4/9 to win with Coral) has also navigated an acrimonious split from his trainer and promoter; McGuigans, Shane and Barry, led to Warrington.
Warrington meanwhile, has evolved from a peripheral attraction in the division to the holder of the IBF belt and a lucrative role as ‘pied-piper’ to an army of followers borne from his affinity with Leeds United football club.
The fight represents a dynamic cocktail of styles, timing and circumstances and though they made their professional debuts just three months apart, a sense they meet on a crossroads in their respective careers.
The best boxing bookmakers are eager to offer markets for those inclined to invest.
Yorkshireman Warrington, with his protruding cheekbones and piercing, angry stare is, at 28, both the younger and fresher man.
A high intensity fighter, who is busy, aggressive and urgent in everything he does, he is expected to set a brisk pace from the off and to try to close the distance behind his jab before working hard in close.
The atmosphere will be a key component of the bout, and particularly in how Warrington manages his emotional response to the raucous and partisan crowd.
"He blanked me after Selby, I went out for a smoke and we still haven't discussed my bonus."— Warrington v Frampton on BT Sport Box Office 🥊 (@BTSportBoxing) December 19, 2018
"So, I'll be having a tenner on Carl." 🤣
At the last #WarringtonFrampton press conference, Josh Warrington's dad joked about betting against his own son... 👀 pic.twitter.com/OvghALBBZy
A majority will be supporting him, despite the fight occurring across the ‘border’ in Lancashire, but there remains potential for him to succumb to the adrenalin this fervour could induce.
Frampton is expected to be immune to this, as the more polished professional, and more accustomed to boxing away from his own fans. But at close to 32 and with the scent of retirement wafting beneath the door, however much he tries to deny its presence, Frampton too, could just elect to trade.
There was enough evidence in Warrington’s signature win over Lee Selby last time out to suggest he will not be enveloped by the moment and it is that performance punters should trust.
He boxed with discipline and to a strict game-plan. Pro-active but not oblivious to risk, Warrington boxed brilliantly against an awkward and elusive opponent in a ‘hot-house’ atmosphere.
It was a breakthrough performance and one which convinced this observer that he may well have the tactics, stamina and arsenal of punches to surprise Frampton and defend his IBF belt successfully.
Beating Nonito Donaire, as Frampton did earlier this year, can never be overlooked but the paper reporting of that win fails to relay that Donaire would immediately drop two divisions to contest the World Boxing Super Series at Bantamweight.
As a win it is not the evidence trail required to assess Frampton’s current form with confidence, nor is his trouncing of the over-matched Luke Jackson, brutal and precise though it was.
Of greater value, in some ways, is the performance Frampton delivered in fighting tall Mexican Horacio Garcia a year ago in his first fight with trainer Jamie Moore, following a rematch loss to Santa Cruz in Las Vegas that summer.
Frampton looked tired and was frequently ‘buzzed’ at range by the taller man. I’m not convinced Frampton can recapture the brilliance of 2016 in a more evenly balanced fight with a natural featherweight.
His array of punches is deeper and more precise than Warrington’s but I can envisage the younger man surviving a torrid opening few rounds before being able to close the gap sufficiently to get to work.
Frampton has tools to fight in close too and Warrington will need to work hard to gain distinct and obvious control of the bout at close quarters. There will be no easy path to victory for either man.
Despite my acceptance of Frampton’s pedigree and Warrington’s inferior array of punches and experience, my belief is Warrington will find a way to win this fight narrowly, though I’m not ruling out a draw and a clamour for a lucrative rematch either.
It’s a modest 20/1 with William Hill on the draw.
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