Carl Frampton turned in a performance of focus, professionalism and skill on Saturday in Belfast to upstage the former four-weight world titlist Nonito Donaire, taking a unanimous decision – 117-111 on all cards – and with it the WBO interim featherweight title. The Northern Irishman boxed beautifully to the orders of Jamie Moore, and when he did open up and turn it into a brawl, both men found the target in a spattering of brief shoot-outs.
Next for Frampton, probably in August, is a stadium showdown at Windsor Park. The opponent could be the winner of Lee Selby’s IBF title defence against Josh Warrington on May 19. Whoever “The Jackal” faces next, he remains one of the most marketable and technically proficient fighters to emerge from Britain in the last 20 years, and his efforts on Saturday night only added weight to his credentials.
Still, to describe Donaire as a washed-up legend would be both crude and incorrect. Although “The Fillipino Flash” wore bruises under his eyes from the early moments onwards, he made it a fight and rocked Frampton at close quarters on more than one occasion. Both contestants gauged the distance early, Donaire the first to attack to the body. The action warmed up in round two, as Frampton manoeuvred Donaire into a corner, planted his feet and delivered a combination of blows to the ribs.
Indeed, the home favourite settled in a rhythm, feinting with the jab and zipping in and out with two and three punch salvos, befuddling his esteemed opponent. In rounds five and seven, though, Donaire landed two scything uppercuts, tottering Frampton backwards on both occasions. The Manchester-based man cleared his head quickly, however, remembering Moore’s warnings to keep calm and stick to his jab.
Frampton came on strong with deft footwork and crisp straight punches and by the time he’d built up a lead going into the final ten seconds, he raided in with body punches, displaying the kind of spite and malice he hadn’t showed since his decision over Leo Santa Cruz in 2016. That win in Brooklyn, for the WBA crown, was Frampton’s best triumph yet - on the evidence of this weekend there’s plenty more where that came from.
The co-main event featured Zolani Tete holding onto his WBO bantamweight title against Omar Narvaez in a bout that was so laborious and one-sided that, if anything, the three scores of 120-108 flattered Narvaez. The Argentine may be a former world titlist but at 42, he showed no ambition, no promise and no hope whatsoever of making a mark on Tete.
The challenger, if we can call him that, held his guard up for the entire bout and wheeled around the outer edges of the ring, refusing to engage. It takes two to tango, though, and while Tete exhibited a rangy jab and awkward hooks, he should have pushed for the finish. He never exerted himself and, frankly, both competitors, promoter Frank Warren and the WBO should be embarrassed for staging such a mismatch.
Elsewhere on the televised card, Mullingar lightweight David Oliver Joyce TKO’d Jordan Ellison in five stanzas, although the stoppage looked premature. Joyce connected with a series of ultimately fight-ending combinations and although Ellison back-peddled into a corner, he wasn’t hurt and perhaps the referee was simply preventing him from shipping unwarranted punishment. Joyce held a grip on every round, scuttling forwards with clusters of blows up the middle, and if he learns to pace himself and sit down on his shots, he could potentially reach world level.
The best contest of the night was a middleweight blood bath between Luke Keeler and Conrad Cummins, Keeler ignoring seeping cuts above each of his eyes to earn verdicts of 98-92, 97-93 and 99-91. The Dublin maverick marched forwards with creative and malicious flurries – one-twos, corkscrew hooks and counter rights were the order of the day. He showed a tremendous engine and because of his spirit and eagerness to trade despite the claret in his eyes, he looks set to become a fans’ favourite and a staple of Frampton undercards.
Starting off the television portion of the show, at super-lightweight, Tyrone McKenna racked up a tally of 98-92 over Anthony Upton, sealing the advantage in round nine with an opportunistic knockdown. As Upton sagged forwards from a head clash, McKenna unloaded with a one-two down the pipe and then crashed into his foe’s jaw with a hook. Upton beat the count but couldn’t recover enough to affect the scorecards.
For more insight and reportage on the latest combat sport events, read my report of Khabib Nurmagomedov's historic victory over Al Iaquinta at UFC 223.