The McGuigans Invade New York With “The Jackal” Carl Frampton in Tow

Barry McGuigan and his son Shane were at Brooklyn’s iconic Gleason’s Gym on Thursday, July 7. They arrived with former WBA/IBF 122-pound champion Carl Frampton who opposes featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz at Barclays Center on July 30. If Frampton wins that fight – and he’s the underdog – he will be the toast of the town when he returns to the Emerald Isle. And, as the late, great Yogi Berra would have said, it will be déjà vu all over again.

The folks in Ireland, North and South, went bonkers when Barry McGuigan wrested the world featherweight title from Panama’s Eusebio Pedroza at a London soccer stadium on June 8, 1985. There were contributing factors. Thirty-five years had elapsed since a native Irishman (flyweight Rinty Monaghan) had owned a world title, a source of some embarrassment to a people proud of their prizefighting heritage. And as champions go, Pedroza was special. He was making his 20th title defense.

McGuigan not only ended that reign, he did it in high style, giving Pedroza a boxing lesson. He won the 15-round contest by a wide margin on all three scorecards. And when he went home, folks turned out to welcome him as if he had just singlehandedly won the World Cup. There were 40,000 at the victory parade in Belfast; an estimated 100,000 in Dublin.

Belfast and Dublin are not exactly Minneapolis and St. Paul. Although the cities are separated by only 106 miles, there is a great divide between them. Belfast is heavily Protestant, Dublin overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, and both cities, particularly Belfast, have been roiled by sectarian strife.

During Barry McGuigan’s heyday, the conflict was particularly intense. But when he was fighting, peace prevailed. The antagonists were united as one as they rooted on “our Barry.” A Roman Catholic married to a Protestant, hailing from the little town of Clones, just south of the border that separated Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland, McGuigan captured the hearts of people on both sides of the great divide.

McGuigan retired in 1989 but stayed connected to boxing. For a time he served as the president of a non-profit established to protect boxers from unscrupulous managers and promoters. After discovering Carl Frampton at an amateur show, he formed Cyclone Promotions. The name harks to his nickname, the Clones Cyclone.

Shane McGuigan, the second oldest of Barry’s three sons, won two national amateur boxing titles but decided against turning pro in favor of kick-starting a career as a nutritionist and personal trainer. His schooling took him to Rhode Island where he trained under renowned strength and conditioning coach Charles Poliquin.

Shane McGuigan wasn’t Carl Frampton’s initial pro trainer; merely a helper. But the two had great rapport and Shane gradually took control. Barry McGuigan, said author Patrick Myler, was “a serious student of the sport, he goes into every strength and weakness of his prospective rivals before a fight, then concentrates on putting into practice his plan of campaign.” The younger McGuigan inherited his father’s meticulous attention to detail.

When Frampton won the IBF World super bantamweight title in 2014, Shane McGuigan was hailed as the youngest lead trainer in history to mold a boxer into a legitimate world champion. He was 25 years old, two years younger than his fighter.

McGuigan’s work caught the attention of veteran campaigners David Haye and George Groves, both of whom hired McGuigan to good effect. He also works with junior welterweight Josh Taylor, the newest member of the small Cyclone Promotions stable. A Scotsman, Taylor is 5-0 (5 KOs). It’s far too early to proclaim Shane McGuigan the next Freddie Roach, but the young trainer is on the right path.

In one of the biggest domestic fights on British soil in recent years, Frampton unified the 122-pound belt with a split decision over WBA titlist Scott Quigg. They fought before a sellout crowd at the big arena in Manchester on February 27. Frampton broke Quigg’s jaw, albeit Quigg came on in the late rounds to make it interesting.

The McGuigans Invade New York With “The Jackal” Carl Frampton in Tow

Nicknamed “The Jackal,” Frampton has had one prior fight in the United States. On July 18 of last year, in the second defense of his IBF title, he outpointed Alejandro Gonzalez on a Premier Boxing Champions card in El Paso. Knocked down twice in the opening round, Frampton stayed the course and won by a comfortable margin. Afterwards, it was agreed that he should have come to the United States sooner so as to better acclimate himself to the time change and other factors. That largely explains why Team Frampton arrived in New York so far in advance of Frampton’s Barclays Center engagement with Leo Santa Cruz.

Barry McGuigan is struck by the parallels between him and his protégé. He held the WBA version of the featherweight title. It’s a WBA featherweight belt that will be at stake on July 30.  He married outside his religion, as has Frampton, a Protestant married to a Roman Catholic. Things have quieted down in Belfast since McGuigan was fighting, but tensions still simmer and Frampton, a Belfast boy, embraces the role that his promoter played so well, the role of conciliator.

By moving up in weight, Frampton (22-0, 14 KOs) skirted a unification match with Guillermo Rigondeaux, also nicknamed “The Jackal.” But Santa Cruz, the Mexican-American from the Lincoln Heights section of Los Angeles, may prove to be an even more difficult test. A champion in three weight classes, he has won 31 straight since suffering a draw in his second pro bout.

Carl Frampton was in hostile territory when he fought in El Paso. At Barclays Center, he will have the crowd in his corner. And if he emerges victorious, he will evoke more memories of the venerated Barry McGuigan when he returns in triumph to a jubilant Emerald Isle.

Carl Frampton