It’s fair to say Carl Frampton had a frustrating year in 2017. After suffering his first professional defeat against Leo Santa Cruz in January, he has since endured a fight cancellation, an acrimonious split from long-time manager Barry McGuigan, and a knockdown in what was supposed to be a routine comeback fight against Horacio Garcia in November in his first outing under new promoter Frank Warren. However, on Saturday, he has the perfect opportunity to put all of these frustrations behind him as he faces veteran Filipino Nonito Donaire in his home city of Belfast.
Donaire himself has also endured a tough time of late. Since losing his WBO super-bantamweight title to Jesse Magdaleno in November 2016, he has fought once, a routine 10-round unanimous decision against Ruben Garcia Hernandez. However, the 35-year-old has a wealth of experience to fall back on, having won world titles in four weight classes from flyweight to featherweight in a professional career spanning seventeen years. Up at featherweight he has not quite hit the same heights as he did in the lower weight classes, yet he remains a dangerous opponent for Frampton.
Throughout his career, Nonito has always been a very effective counter-puncher, and while Frampton goes into this fight as favourite, you suspect that he will have to improve on his previous outing if he is to come away with the win. There is much at stake here, on the line is the WBO Interim featherweight title (and with it a potential clash with Mexico’s Oscar Valdez), whereas the loser may have a long way to go to get back into title contention. At this stage in his career, Frampton should still be fresh enough to earn the victory, most likely by way of a unanimous decision.
On the undercard, South African stylist Zolani Tete returns to Belfast to defend his WBO bantamweight title against Argentine Omar Andres Narvaez. At the grand old age of 42, Narvaez is not in his prime, but since last losing to Japanese phenom Naoya Inoue in December 2014, he has looked decent, albeit at a lower level. While Tete has looked sensational of late, his stunning eleven second KO of countryman Siboniso Gonya in particular turning heads, Narvaez has much greater pedigree than any of Tete’s recent opponents. Tete is expected to win, but if he could carry on his recent form and blow away Narvaez like Inoue did, it would send a message to the rest of the division, and no doubt increase the clamour for a showdown with Belfast’s Ryan Burnett.
There is also plenty more Irish interest on the card, with three decent-looking north-south encounters. Dublin’s Jono Carroll faces local boy Marco McCullough in a crossroads encounter at super-featherweight. At light-welterweight, fellow Belfast fighter Tyrone McKenna makes a step up in class as he fights Belfast’s Anto Upton Jr. Craigavon’s Conrad Cummings and Dublin’s Luke Keeler both look to regain some momentum as they meet in a middleweight encounter. All three have the potential to be highly competitive and fan-friendly fights which could provide a springboard for bigger things.