When on the floor looking up at a heaving maniac who has youth, physical stature and now momentum on his side, there are two options: concede the loss or rise to confront the beast. Carl Frampton took the latter option.
It’s easy to assess the two knockdowns Frampton suffered at the hands of Alejandro Gonzalez Jr. and declare that twice hitting the deck against an unknown fighter with an average knockout percentage is a harbinger of doom against bigger names, but that would ignore the 11 subsequent rounds in which both men showed their mettle. Getting up from knockdowns to win a hard-fought decision takes true grit, as did Gonzalez’s effort for the rest of the bout, in which he found himself out-classed but never too far behind.
It was Frampton’s debut on U.S. soil, American television and in the Premier Boxing Champions stable, and the El Paso, Texas and CBS audiences likely didn’t think much of Frampton when he got caught with a left hook and sent down for the first time in his career in the first minute of the match. Up quickly, Frampton looked fine and even got back into the fight in a hurry, but a right hand dipped his knees enough that another knockdown scored in the closing seconds of the round.
Unbeaten at 21-0 with 14 knockouts, Frampton has settled for a decision win only once in the last three years; this time he needed to battle for one against a foe who was a roughly 20-to-1 underdog. But Frampton answered the adversity by taking the fight to Gonzalez, outworking him slightly, but clearly landing more consistently, if not plainly harder. Gonzalez’s left hook was connecting here and there though, which kept him in the discussion as Frampton piled up rounds to counteract the early knockdowns. There were rounds like the fifth and ninth where Gonzalez stung the Belfast native with his hook or rocked him with long right hands, but for Frampton the whole event turned into an uphill battle for respect.
At only 22-years-old and now 25-2-2 with 15 knockouts, Gonzalez could have simply succumbed to the stream of jabs, the body work or the snapping right hands. Instead he made sure to mark Frampton’s face so that he knew he’d been in a fight. Having only fought once before in the U.S., his record padded with Mexican trialhorses, Gonzalez nearly kept pace with one of the best fighters in the world at 122 pounds and should now be looking to maintain that trajectory.
In a sport where taking the shorter route, and therefore the easy way out, is not only understandable but often in the fighter’s best interest, choosing the painful gauntlet instead is a strange norm. It’s heroism on a sliding scale, where we become desensitized to toughness and therefore are only impressed by superhuman feats. Frampton looked human, amplified by potential rival Scott Quigg’s demolition job of Frampton’s old foe Kiko Martinez earlier in the day. But it could still be a potent learning experience, and not just a sub-par performance.
Above all the analysis, Frampton vs Gonzalez was a highly watchable affair and far exceeded the quality of the bout before it, Chris Arreola’s slogging majority draw with Fred Kassi. The punch output was high, and the clinch and foul counts were low, and there were enough subtle momentum shifts that it didn’t become uninteresting.
Going forward, Frampton remains one of the PBC’s few links to the U.K. and will still draw well at home. His outing against Gonzalez was not bombastic enough to signal clear star power in the U.S., and getting him back on a PBC card sooner rather than later would be wise. The question, though: can Frampton stay at super bantamweight and face the winner of Leo Santa Cruz vs Abner Mares, or will he instead confront a larger set of beasts at featherweight? — Patrick Connor