FRAMPTON-SANTA CRUZ II — “Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the king …” words supposedly engraved outside the tomb of King Tutankhamen
It is always a risky business, the tempting of fate. Those who believe, at least a little, in omens and curses might have foreseen that Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton would lose his WBA featherweight championship on Saturday night to Leo Santa Cruz, the man he had won it from six months earlier. Only one day prior to the high-interest, Showtime-televised rematch at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, Frampton, with much fanfare, had been announced as the winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Sugar Ray Robinson Award as 2016’s Fighter of the Year. He will be honored at the 92nd annual BWAA Awards Dinner on March 16 in New York City for having emerged victorious in tough bouts against Santa Cruz and Scott Quigg in the year just past, outpointing previously undefeated world titlists who were a combined 63-0-3 with 41 knockouts at the time he faced them.
The timing was such that Frampton (23-1, 14 KOs), who lost a hard-fought majority decision, was confronting not only the very capable Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KOs), but the reappearance of the Curse of the BWAA, which might be likened to the Sports Illustrated cover jinx or, even more ominously, the string of mishaps that followed the unearthing of King Tut’s tomb on Nov. 26, 1922.
Along with Frampton, Black Saturday proved the downfall of WBC super featherweight champion Francisco Vargas (23-1-2, 17 KOs), who was stopped in 11 rounds by Miguel Berchelt (31-1, 28 KOs) at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif., likely ending Vargas’ bid for a threepeat involvement in the BWAA’s Ali-Frazier Fight of the Year. In 2015, Vargas dethroned Takashi Miura on a rousing ninth-round TKO, and he retained his title on a blood-and-guts majority draw against Orlando Salido in 2016. It might also prove difficult for Frampton’s trainer, Shane McGuigan, to become a back-to-back winner of the Eddie Futch Trainer of the Year Award now that “The Jackal” has begun 2017 on a losing note.
Cue up the theme music to The Twilight Zone, please.
In legend and lore, the Curse of the BWAA dates back to March 2003, when I was serving as president of the organization as well as an ersatz successor to Englishman Howard Carter, who made history when he and his team of archaeologists discovered the first Egyptian pharaonic tomb that contained most of its treasures.
By 1935, 21 people connected with the discovery of King Tut’s tomb were said to have died early and of unnatural causes, although many who died under suspicious circumstances likely fell victim to bacteria that fed on food in the tomb and got into the lungs of the excavators, not because of some ancient curse. But, hey, who’s to say for sure? Those who believe in voodoo similarly attest to the power of gris gris, a French term of West African origin for a charm or amulet by which an evil spell can be cast.
The list of BWAA honorees for 2002 that in early 2003 already had or shortly thereafter would be struck by some sort of misfortune included the following:
*Klaus-Peter Kohl, head of the German promotional company Universum and co-winner of the Manager of the Year Award for his deft handling of, among others, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, had to cope with Wladimir’s loss of his WBO heavyweight title on a shocking knockout loss to Corrie Sanders on March 8, 2003.
*Dethroned WBC welterweight champion Vernon Forrest, winner of the BWAA’s 2002 Fighter of the Year Award for twice defeating the highly regarded Shane Mosley, was bombed out in three rounds on Jan. 25, 2003, by WBA titlist Ricardo Mayorga.
*Buddy McGirt, winner of the BWAA’s 2002 Trainer of the Year Award, bypassed an opportunity to work Mike Tyson’s corner because of an oral commitment to train Clifford Etienne. Tyson took out “The Black Rhino” with a tranquilizer dart of a right hand only 49 seconds into the first round of their Feb. 22, 2003 bout.
*Norman Stone, the other 2002 co-winner of the Manager of the Year Award after guiding John Ruiz to the WBA heavyweight crown, was slugged by Roy Jones Jr.’s trainer, Alton Merkerson, at the weigh-in before the March 1, 2003, Ruiz-Jones fight. Stone suffered heart palpitations and was briefly hospitalized. Two nights later, Jones exposed Ruiz in winning a one-sided, unanimous decision.
Fortunately, the so-called Curse of the BWAA is as often in remission as not. Muhammad Ali was named Fighter of the Year in both 1974 and ’75; Evander Holyfield got the big prize in 1996 and ’97, and Manny Pacquiao in 2008 and ’09. Al Haymon was named Manager of the Year four straight years, from 2012 through ’15, and Freddie Roach, a seven-time Trainer of the Year, had two multi-year runs: 2008 through ’10 and 2013 and ’14.
Team Frampton should not be too discouraged by coming up just a bit short in the second go at Santa Cruz. A rubber match almost surely will be made before the end of the year, offering the Belfast native – the first Irish fighter to be named the BWAA’s Fighter of the Year since the award’s inception in 1938 – to again gain the upper hand in his evolving arch-rivalry with an opponent with whom he almost certainly will be linked forever. In the interim, Frampton can and should take solace in the fact that he has achieved something no Irish fighter, or one of Irish descent, had. If that’s not reason enough to tip back a pint of Guinness at the BWAA Awards Dinner, I don’t know what is.
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