The crowd strained the seams of Dublin’s Point Depot. A showband droned, and then Bernard Dunne strode through green smoke with the devil in his eyes. Few fans, however, will remember the ring entrance. They remember three knockdowns inside 90 seconds, the Spaniard that silenced the carnival and Dunne’s vacant gaze as the ref waved his dreams away.
Five years later, and Kiko Martinez is back to crumple another Irishman. This Saturday, the Alicante native meets Carl Frampton in Belfast – arguably the finest young professional to come from the island in recent years. The fight will decide whose waist bears the European super bantamweight belt. Promoted by Barry McGuigan and trained by McGuigan’s son Shane, the Belfast-born Frampton has accumulated a 15-0 record, losing very few rounds on his way.
Like Dunne before him, the 25-year-old (nicknamed the Jackal) has grown a loyal fan base, but the similarities between the two fighters peter thereafter. While Dunne was prone to bouts of showboating during his fights, Frampton is colder – more ruthless. He doesn’t flick the jab as a rangefinder; he combines spiteful shots, and cuts to the body to break the spirit. He walks down opponents with a bobbing, compact style and presses until it is over.
Still, many decent Irish fighters have fallen after premature eulogies, and Frampton is relatively unproven at elite level. His last outing, against former US world champion Steve Molitor, was impressive (sixth round TKO), but he needs more rounds in his arms, having heard the 12th bell only once in his career so far. Against Martinez, he will get them.
The Spaniard styles himself as a destructive puncher, but his record suggests otherwise. While he drubbed Dunne in a single round, his concussive stoppages have generally come against modest opposition and, whenever he has pressed gloves with world class opposition, he has been beaten. He endured two points defeats to Britain’s former world title challenger Rendall Munroe and lost a world title eliminator against South African Takalani Ndlovu (also on points). His record tells us that he is a tough, European-level fighter. He stays on the front foot, but his work lacks subtlety. He trust the heft of his fists and slings power shots often, but his work has been nullified by well-schooled fighters. Frampton could struggle to get his shots off against slick, rangy opponents, but Martinez is not one of them.
Frampton is impatient for a world title shot, but it is unlikely to happen this year. Victory over Martinez should lead to a bout against the aforementioned Munroe or a credible, yet jaded former world champion (Vic Darchinyan perhaps?). Fans in Britain and Ireland would love to see a tussle with the excellent Scott Quigg (who beat his countryman Munroe easily), but promoters will keep them apart for as long as possible. Unfortunately, the division’s global superstars are disappearing past the horizon. If tentative talks are to be believed, current strap holders Abner Mares and Nonito Donaire (Manny Pacquiao’s heir apparent) are set to fight each other for a $3m purse – a staggering amount for fighters in the lower weight classes. However, if Frampton wants a piece of Donaire in the future, he will have to scale the weight divisions and join the queue.
For now, there is only Kiko Martinez. The European champion will provide a thorough examination of his progress. Bernard Dunne managed to win a world title despite the crushing defeat to Martinez. Frampton may have to repair his ego after a knockout loss in the coming years, but he won’t have to do so after Saturday.
Expect Frampton to win by comfortable points decision.
– Eoin Redahan (@eoinredahan)