To say that Carl Frampton had a memorable 2016 is about as big of an understatement as saying Northern Irishmen are a tad rambunctious and enjoy the occasional pint of beer.
After unifying 122-pound world titles with a victory over U.K. rival Scott Quigg in February, the Belfast native moved up to 126 pounds, immediately challenged three-division world champion Leo Santa Cruz in July and stole the undefeated Mexican-American’s crown in a wildly entertaining Fight of the Year-caliber bout in Brooklyn, New York.
In upsetting Santa Cruz, Frampton became just the second Irishman—and first Northern Irishman—to become a two-division world champion. He also nabbed the same 126-pound title that his manager, mentor and fellow Irishman Barry McGuigan held in the mid-1980s.
For all those accomplishments, “The Jackal” earned the cherry on top: He was named the consensus Fighter of the Year.
So, yeah, 2016 was a pretty decent year for Carl Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs), whose signature victory over Santa Cruz occurred just 54 weeks after he twice had to pick himself up off the canvas in the first round of his U.S. debut against the late Alejandro Gonzalez Jr.
Never one to get too wrapped up in past successes, though, the 29-year-old Frampton is kicking off 2017 in a huge way: On Saturday, he’ll defend his 126-pound title for the first time against Leo Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KOs) in an eagerly anticipated rematch at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
We recently met up with Frampton at his Las Vegas-based training camp to talk to the champ about life as a pugilist, his electrifying career backup plan, his crush on a certain “Friend” and why a popular Irish stereotype isn’t exactly as true as you think.
Not including yourself, who is the best fighter in your division right now?
That’s a hard one. You’ve got so many different guys. I think [fellow 126-pound titleholder] Gary Russell Jr. is a very good fighter. And Leo is a helluva fighter, too. I don’t really want to single someone out, but I’ll give him his due and say Leo Santa Cruz.
What did the victory over Santa Cruz mean in terms of career achievements?
To date, it’s my greatest career achievement. I beat a three-weight world champ, and I moved up a division to do it. So that is easily the best thing I’ve done in my career. But I still think there’s more to come.
How much has it meant to have a former champion and fellow Irishman such as Barry McGuigan in your corner?
It’s meant a great deal. I think I’m in a lucky position that I’m being managed by someone who isn’t simply in this for the money. He’s been there and done it, and it’s much easier to take advice from a guy [like him].
Like if you’re coming back to your corner after a bad round, you want to take advice from someone who has been there rather than a guy who has never done it before. He knows what it’s all about, he knows how hard of a game it is, so I listen and soak it all up.
“ People see you on fight night; they don’t see everything that happens behind closed doors. Like I just did 12 rounds of sparring with two different guys. I’m in Vegas—there are other things I’d rather be doing, if I’m being honest. ” Carl Frampton, 126-pound world champion
You obviously have access to an ex-world champ in Barry. But if you could spend 20 minutes picking the brain of any other boxer in history—living or dead—who would it be?
Probably Roberto Duran. He’s still alive, so maybe I’ll get to do that at some point. But one of the things I’m trying to improve on—I think I am improving on—is the inside fighting. And there was no better fighter on the inside than Roberto Duran.
I’m sure he could show me a few tricks—a few dirty tricks and a few clean tricks.
Who’s the one fighter in history you wish you could’ve fought, and how do you think such a fight would’ve played out?
[Former 118-pound world champion] Wayne McCullough was someone I looked up to. I think a McCullough fight, if we had been around at the same time, two Belfast boys—that would’ve been huge.
I think it would’ve been a good fight. He was tough, relentless and always came forward—a similar style to Santa Cruz, but a little bit shorter. I think I would’ve done quite well in that fight.
How old were you the first time you put on a pair of boxing gloves and stepped into the ring?
I was 7. I went to a local club and started sparring pretty early on. I was a quiet kid and I was very short, and other kids around our neighborhood were—I wouldn’t say picking on or bullying me, but I was quiet and they were more boisterous kids.
But when we got in the ring at the boxing club, I was beating up the loudmouths and that felt good. That’s when I fell in love with [boxing].
If you had the ability to change your body type, what’s the one weight class you wish you could compete in, and who in that division would you like to fight?
Heavyweight, because that’s where the money is. If I had a little bit more height, because of my style, I think I’d be a dynamite heavyweight.
As for who I’d fight—who’s the main man right now, [Britain’s Anthony] Joshua? That would be a great fight, me against Joshua at Wembley Stadium—if I was another foot taller and maybe another [100 pounds] heavier.
Describe what it feels like to land the perfect punch.
Oh, it feels great. You know as soon as it’s landed. And when you see someone hit the deck, there’s no greater feeling just for that split second.
Obviously, if they’re badly hurt, you’re thinking, “Oh, God, I hope he’s OK.” But that’s what you’re looking to do is knock guys out. So for a split second, it’s the best feeling in the world.
Favorite punch to throw?
The left hook. It’s my strongest punch, and I think I land it quite well and am accurate with it.
Who has hit you the hardest in your career, be it in sparring or an actual fight?
It was a guy named Choi Tseveenpurev. He’s a Mongolian and was a serious puncher—like stupid power. And Kiko Martinez can hit pretty hard as well. He busted my eardrum in our first fight (a ninth-round TKO victory in February 2013).
What’s the one meal that’s the toughest to give up when training for a fight?
Not a meal so much, but bread. You’d just love a sandwich or a bit of toast sometimes. Simple things like that.
What’s the one thing about the life of a pro boxer that most fight fans don’t understand?
The time [you have to spend] away from your family—that’s the toughest for me. And then just the daily work.
You know, it’s a hard slug. People see you on fight night; they don’t see everything that happens behind closed doors. Like I just did 12 rounds of sparring today with two different guys. I’m in Vegas—there are other things I’d rather be doing, if I’m being honest.
So it’s tough. People don’t see the hard work that’s involved to get you into condition to be ready to fight.
Where did the nickname “The Jackal” come from?
Because my name is Carl, I used to get called Carlos—that was my nickname. Then someone called me Carlos the Jackal.
Obviously, there was an infamous character called Carlos the Jackal. He was a [Venezuelan] terrorist. I’m not associated with him or anything, but I was called that in school, and it just kind of stuck.
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …
… an electrician. As a kid, I always had this idea of being an electrician and owning my own electrical business, being self-employed.
Who’s the one artist fans would be surprised to find on your iPod?
Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics. I love Annie Lennox. I have a strange taste in music—well, I have a good taste in music, but some people might find it strange.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you want to portray you?
Danny DeVito. He’s got a similar stature. And I think I’m gonna look a lot like Danny DeVito in about 15 years.
[Former world champion] Chris Algieri could do me as a boxer if you kind of shrunk him a little bit. And then in the later years, DeVito would be perfect.
Who was your first celebrity crush?
What’s the biggest misconception about Irishmen?
That we’re good drinkers. We like to drink, but I don’t think a lot of us are good drinkers—well, I’m not very good, anyway. My wife is a much better drinker than me. She can handle herself.
Why should American sports fans care more about soccer?
I think they’re starting to. It’s a brilliant game. Apart from a well-matched boxing fight, I think a well-played, evenly matched futbol game is hard to beat.
Finish this sentence: People would be surprised to learn that …
… I can sing. I like doing some Eagles numbers—“Take It to the Limit,” “Hotel California.”
You can have dinner with four people in the history of the world. Who is on your guest list?
Jennifer Aniston. Roberto Duran, because I would like to pick his brain. [Northern Ireland soccer legend] George Best from back home. And Gordon Ramsay—he can cook the food and he seems to be good fun, as well.
What’s on your bucket list?
I don’t know. I’m a bit of a boring guy.
I’d like to run a marathon in less than three hours. I’ve done a half marathon in a pretty decent time—about one hour, 19 [minutes]. Don’t know that I’ll ever do [a full marathon], but I like the idea of it.
“12 Rounds With …” is published weekly at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: 147-pound contender Sammy Vasquez Jr.