That a pair of potential Fights of the Year candidates — Frampton vs Warrington and Chisora vs Whyte — are taking place on the same night, on separate bills in cities 200 miles apart, is both a terrific shame for UK fight fans – who must decide which to watch live – and for the combatants, whose pockets will be hit by the divided audience. That such a thing is happening is not unprecedented or even surprising, however. The twin December 22 shows are as much about Frank Warren vs Eddie Hearn (and BT vs Sky) as they are about Carl Frampton vs Josh Warrington and Dillian Whyte vs Dereck Chisora.
Promotional and broadcast wrangling aside, boxing fans – who have greeted the move with anger and obloquy – will have to choose which event they wish to pay for: the BT show in Manchester or the Sky bill in London. For my lucre, the former represents the most enticing option as Warrington and Frampton occupy the upper echelon of the featherweight division. By contrast, Whyte and Chisora – trading on a simmering rivalry which culminated in a fun brawl two years ago – clearly belong to the second tier of heavyweights.
Both, nonetheless, have powder-keg potential, although Eddie Hearn is probably correct in stating that each caters to a different market. Hardcore boxing fans will gravitate towards the world title showdown between Warrington and Frampton and a broader client base – a group pejoratively but sometimes necessarily referred to as ‘casuals’ – will favour Whyte vs Chisora. So let’s add Hardcores vs Casuals to the expanding list of subplot duels.
Of course, there are many factors beyond the contest itself which might influence your decision. Perhaps you prefer BT’s coverage to Sky’s; perhaps the idea of lining the pockets of Hearn, Whyte and Chisora appeals more than feathering the nest of Warren, Warrington and Frampton. Or perhaps it’s too close to Christmas to justifiably fork out on yet another pay-per-view. Those are topics for another column: what I’m most interested in is the collision between Britain’s best featherweights, fighters lionised by some of the most fervent, loyal and loud partisans in the sport.
It is quite rare for boxers with comparably ardent fan bases to meet, and it’s no stretch to say that Frampton and Warrington bouts are defined as much by the antics of their vocal apparatchiks in the stands as by the bloody exchanges between the ropes. Manchester Arena will therefore represent a crucible of vociferous combat between the IBF holder’s Leeds United-supporting faithful and Frampton’s diehard Northern Irish zealots. To quote a sentiment which booms throughout a certain football stadium every other week: “Let the people sing their stories and their songs / And the music of their native land.”
Both men enter the contest in a rich vein of form, Warrington having dethroned IBF ruler Lee Selby at his beloved Elland Road in May, while Frampton surgically deconstructed overmatched Luke Jackson in August. The younger man by almost four years, 28-year-old Warrington is a fresh face in the world-calibre stratosphere: his best win prior to Selby was over a faded Kiko Martinez, the same Martinez whom Frampton dominated (for a second time) three years previous. That said, Warrington has overcome a number of solid operators on his climb, winning British, Commonwealth and European honours en route. His last five opponents had a combined record of 141 victories against 15 defeats, and after besting a quick-handed technician like Selby, the prospect of meeting Frampton is unlikely to daunt him.
To give credit where it’s due, Warrington’s career has been engineered to perfection, and he seemed to peak in the Selby fight, hard-charging the wiry Welshman for 12 rounds and thoroughly busting him up to claim the title. The attributes upon which he relies – compactness, a manic workrate that comes from a near-pathological dedication to training, and a refusal to yield – were always evident but have grown more pronounced as he’s moved through the ranks. Make no mistake, the Warrington who defeated Joel Brunker in 2015 could not have outslugged Lee Selby. He enters the fight unbeaten in 27 with just 6 knockouts, and this lack of power likely nurtures his expectation of going the distance, knowledge which in turn inspires the rigours of his training regime.
Frampton also has 27 pro contests with the lone defeat coming to a man he’d also beaten, Leo Santa Cruz. The pedigree, of course, is more impressive: I flew to Belfast to watch him wrench the IBF super bantamweight crown from Kiko Martinez in 2013, and prior to that he picked up Commonwealth and European titles just like Warrington. In his career so far, “The Jackal” has triumphed over a future Hall of Famer in Nonito Donaire, unified world titles with his win over Scott Quigg, headlined cards in Brooklyn and Las Vegas and achieved champion status in a second weight class. In common with Warrington, he’s also headlined an open-air stadium event, the aforementioned procession against Jackson at Windsor Park.
What we can say with some confidence is that they are very well-matched: neither is likely to dominate or reveal a gulf in class. Warrington is simply too strong and determined to lose widely to Frampton who can sometimes leave himself open and has endured a number of bruising battles. Similarly, the Jackal’s excellent boxing brain, timing and judge-friendly combination punching – not to mention his vast experience – will ensure he has his share of moments in the contest.
While Frampton is the technically superior boxer, Warrington is fitter, more physical. I couldn’t imagine Frampton bullying Selby as Warrington did, not least because that’s not his style. He employs finesse and smarts when hunting an opponent, springing in and out, darting left and right, ripping body shots then leaning back to tee up long-range efforts. He’s adept at catching breathers and using his feet to reset, and he’s good at parrying and tying guys up too. He is, in short, a great all-rounder.
Warrington, on the other hand, is pure momentum. A crowd-pleasing bundle of energy, his innate confidence says he can overcome anyone in his path, power, or lack of it, be damned. When he stalks forward he cups his gloves around his head, presenting a difficult target, all the more so because that target is ceaselessly moving forward applying suffocating pressure. The punches are not the quickest or the sneakiest but they have an inexorable and gritty quality to them and he is supremely conditioned.
In respect to each fighter’s capacity to handle the other, Frampton seems better equipped not just because his ledger features greater quality but because he has defeated a volume-punching buzzsaw in the Warrington mould in the form of Leo Santa Cruz. Indeed, you might plausibly argue that Santa Cruz is a stronger version of the Leeds bulldog; he certainly hits with more authority. Warrington, on the other hand, has never encountered a sharpshooting boxer-puncher quite like Frampton. “The Jackal” can manipulate angles and lead you on a merry dance with his feints and nimble footwork, while stinging and punishing you when you think you’ve got him trapped. Selby might come close to fitting the bill, but one gets the sense he stayed at 126 pounds too long, that Warrington got him at the perfect juncture.
Both Frampton and Warrington will attempt to slow the opponent with body shots and The Jackal loves digging hooks underneath, often following one-twos up top. Warrington understands too that crippling the torso makes an opponent more vulnerable to his swarming attacks as the contest wears on. Does Frampton hit with enough authority to slow Warrington’s frenetic onslaught? Is Carl busy and fit enough to outlast the hyped-up younger man?
With thousands of rival fans alternately execrating one another and spiritedly cheering their envoys of regional pride, it should be a gripping turf war in Manchester, an absorbing showdown between two featherweights close to their natural peaks. I wouldn’t be surprised if a draw is on the cards. And whichever event you watch on December 22, let’s hope both justify their pay-per-view price tags. — Ronnie McCluskey