Carl Frampton on quitting boxing, finding love in Belfast and “bull****” answers to big questions


On an April evening in Dubai last spring, Carl Frampton found himself perched on a stool in the corner of a ring at Caesars Palace. “F*** me,” he thought to himself. “It’s going to be a really difficult night.”

The man-made mini-peninsula on which Northern Ireland fought doesn’t have the same boxing history as its Nevada namesake, but it was to mark a significant moment in the career of one of this generation’s most talented fighters. It would actually herald the end of that career.

Fifteen months after his loss to Jamel Herring, Frampton sits in a London airport, breathing much less heavily than he speaks The Independent over the phone. His voice is, of course, calmer than during the post-fight speech in which he regretted missing the chance to see his children grow up. His mind is also calmer.

Frampton recalls his decision to retire at the age of 34: “It wasn’t hard at all. I kind of retired in the ring, but when I spoke to the people closest to me who went into this fight, I knew I was going to retire. Of course you want to win big, but it was just too far. It’s a really awful feeling when you go into a fight confidently, but at the end of Round 1 you sit on the stool and you’re like, ‘F*** me, this is going to be a really difficult night.'”

It was indeed a difficult night for five and a half rounds before Frampton’s corner saved their fighter and ended his hopes of leaving Dubai with the WBO Super Featherweight title. The towel came in like a curtain that fell over Frampton’s fighting career and ushered in a new chapter in his life.

“It ended up being emotional,” says Frampton. “I wasn’t home, there weren’t many people there because of Covid, my wife and children were back in Belfast. It was hard. I shed a few tears, but I was kind of looking at the end, looking at the end of a perfect career…”

Frampton after his last fight, an injury loss to Jamel Herring

(Getty Images)

It was a 12-year career that saw Frampton win world bantamweight and super featherweight titles, a career that combined blurring speed with ferocious strength and considerable in-ring intelligence to beat Nonito Donaire, Leo Santa Cruz, Hugo Cazares and Kiko Martinez among others. Frampton, 35, spends part of his time working for BT Sport and offers some of the most insightful analysis in all of boxing.

“I suppose retirement has been busier than I thought it would be,” he says. “I thought I’d had a lot more time at home twiddling my thumbs but to be honest it was pretty awesome. Obviously I’ve got the new gig with BT, I do little things for various charities, I’ve put out a podcast. I’m trying to balance that with my personal life and what I wanted to do: take some time off and relax with my wife and kids.”

A younger Frampton, who comes from a Protestant background, feared his blossoming relationship with now-wife Christine, a Catholic, would prove divisive in a city and country long, well, divided.

“When we first got together in Belfast I thought there might be friction, we might get stuck a little bit, there might be people where I’m from that would have a problem with that – and vice versa,” Frampton says. “But there was no real problem. I’ve never had anyone on the street have a problem with me, nor have the people closest to me. Online… Social media is a bloody awful place. You get the usual jerks who like to speak up, but that’s to be expected in this day and age. It was something I was a little worried about, but I just fell in love with a girl…”

Frampton had already fallen in love with boxing, but the sport can be a selfish partner, taking more from those in love than it gives back. Few in boxing have a balanced relationship with the sport, and so Frampton encourages fighters to take advantage of opportunities to make money while they can. However, he calls for more transparency from campaigners, promoters and managers when it comes to sports laundering, a practice by which countries host sporting events to distract from scandal, crime and/or poor human rights records.

Frampton fills part of his days as a retired fighter by working as a BT Sport pundit

(Getty Images for the sports industry)

“I think it’s kind of an excuse when people say, ‘We box in Saudi Arabia, we play LIV golf there, because we’re trying to promote our sport in the Middle East,'” Frampton says. “It is Bull*** really, it really is,” he hisses, that calmness in his voice breaking for the first time in our conversation.

“I would almost prefer it if the athletes, promoters and managers just told it like it is; Just say you go there for the money. There’s really nothing wrong with that. We’re in the damn sport where I’d say only 0.5 percent of boxers are able to live comfortably after they retire. Not many people are able to buy a home after graduating from a professional boxing career. Golf is a different story, but… You have to think of the hundreds of thousands of journeyman boxers who don’t even come close to fighting for titles.

“If people were really honest, I think others would accept that. Just say, “Look, the money was too good to turn down, that’s why we’re fighting in Saudi Arabia” or “That’s why I’m playing in the LIV tournament.” But where do you draw the line? “I only want to compete in neutral countries where there are no wars…” Every damn country in the world has its own problems. Where do you draw the line?”

It’s a significant response from a fighter who has drawn a line under his career in Dubai. Finally, more than two decades after his dedication to boxing, Frampton is able to take more out of the sport than he gives.

Carl Frampton will be one of the keynote speakers at the Beyond the Games conference, an event organized by UK organization Beyond Sport on Tuesday 26th July. Ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, they will bring together 300 leaders from the national and international sport sector to explore, debate and share the role of sport in addressing the UK’s most pressing social and sectoral issues. Frampton will be part of a panel discussing how athletes can use their platforms to bring about change in society at large. Carl Frampton on quitting boxing, finding love in Belfast and “bull****” answers to big questions

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