This Saturday sees the culmination of a dream for one of Northern Ireland’s favourite fighting sons as Carl Frampton headlines at Windsor Park, defending his WBO interim featherweight title against Australian Luke Jackson. Despite the huge occasion, it is a fight that Frampton really ought to win, and win well in order to stake his claim for a title shot at Oscar Valdez, Leo Santa Cruz or Josh Warrington in the near future. Jackson, who fought for Australia at the London Olympics, sports an undefeated record, but is yet to fight anyone remotely in the same class as Frampton.
The build-up has been heated, with ‘Action’ Jackson claiming that ‘The Jackal’ is not the fighter he once was. This has irritated Frampton a little, though there could be something to Jackson’s comments. Despite generally looking comfortable against the faded Nonito Donaire, he did appear noticeably below-par in defeating Horacio Garcia last year. However, given the gulf in pedigree between the two, this shouldn’t be a factor as Frampton seeks to win another (bona fide) world title.
Back in June, Tyson Fury made his long-awaited return to the ring against Sefer Seferi. While Fury was understandably not at his best physically or technically, the class and size disparity did mean that there was very little that could be gauged from that performance. He steps up his comeback against Italian-born German Francesco Pianeta in what should be another ticking-over fight. Pianeta famously overcame cancer earlier in his career on his way to a heavyweight title shot against Wladimir Klitschko, although in recent years, he has hit a poor run of form, losing twice in the past year to two opponents way below world level in Kevin Johnson and Petar Milas.
Still, with Fury only having fought four rather pedestrian rounds on his comeback so far, it should still prove a decent enough workout. Unlike Seferi, Pianeta won’t be dwarfed by the gargantuan Fury, and unless Fury looks much sharper than he did in June, Pianeta should be wily enough for for Fury to get more rounds in the bank. All told however, this calibre of opponent may be a sign that Fury is a long way from being ready to challenge the big guns of the division, with a potential winter title tilt at WBC champion Deontay Wilder possibly being misguided at this stage.
However, the best fight on the card features neither of its two biggest stars, with Belfast’s Paddy Barnes fighting for the WBC flyweight title against Nicaraguan Cristofer Rosales. Although he has only had 5 pro outings so far, Barnes has three Olympic campaigns under his belt, and at the age of 31, surely the time is now for him to kick on in the professional ranks. He has blown hot and cold in the pro ranks, struggling with the pace in his first 10-rounder last year against the experienced Silviu Olteanu, yet in his most recent fight against Eliecer Quezada, he looked a lot sharper, stopping his overweight opponent via a 6th-round body shot.
Rosales (cousin of 4-weight world champion Roman Gonzalez) has fought in the UK before, against Kal Yafai and Andrew Selby, and both times, despite losing fairly comfortably, he has put up a good effort, even knocking down Selby in the opening round of their fight. Last time out, he secured a career-best win as he wrested the WBC title away from Daigo Higa, hitherto regarded as one of Japanese boxing’s biggest talents. It was one of the biggest shocks of 2018, and Rosales performed brilliantly, although Higa was handicapped by weight problems in the build-up.
Barnes goes in as the more polished fighter, and if the pair’s respective performances against Quezada are anything to go by (Rosales winning a split decision against his countryman last year), Barnes will be favourite. However, despite being 8 years younger, Rosales is much more battle-hardened in the pro ranks, and has much more experience of going into the later rounds of fights. Even if Barnes builds up an early lead, the longer the fight goes, the more it may suit the visitor as he looks to make a successful first defence of his title.