In her 1986 treatise, On Boxing, renowned author Joyce Carol Oates writes that “the boxer meets an opponent who is a dream-distortion of himself in the sense that his weaknesses, his capacity to fail and to be seriously hurt … [are] strengths belonging to the other.” The opponent is always the boxer’s shadow-self. These words are not just poignant prose, but representative of the most insightful exploration of boxing philosophy ever written. And Saturday’s super featherweight showdown between Carl Frampton and Jamel Herring demonstrates the incisiveness of her analysis.
Frampton, aka “The Jackal,” is thirty-four years old. Herring is thirty-five. The men have two losses a piece. In years past, just two defeats at this stage of their careers would have been regarded as entirely respectable, if not impressive. But in the current climate, it foreshadows the final bell. The business of boxing is heartless and promoters are willing to waste little on blemished records. For either man, a third defeat could spell the end of a career. Worse yet, it could relegate a former champion to the dreaded role of stepping stone for younger, hungrier jackals.
For years, Frampton was hailed as a promising prospect. Under the tutelage of Barry McGuigan, one of the greatest of Irish boxers, Carl knocked out a series of impressive opponents: Martinez, Parodi, Cazares. In 2015, he went to war with Alejandro Gonzalez on the banks of the Rio Grande. In the first round, Frampton was dropped with a short jab to the chest. A barrage of body shots and low blows put him down twice more. Still, “The Jackal” showed his grit by battling back with determination and managing to win a unanimous decision.
In 2016, Frampton solidified his standing by taking a world title from Scott Quigg. However, just months later, he was stripped of this belt for refusing to fight the Cuban master, Guillermo Rigondeaux. Instead of contesting, Frampton moved up to featherweight. It was a wise move. Though Frampton had talent and heart to spare, Rigondeaux was a technical genius. At featherweight, Frampton dethroned Leo Santa Cruz to salvage his legacy and his reputation. But six months later he was drawn into a toe-to-toe dogfight in the rematch and the Mexican featherweight took back his title.
In 2018, the Jackal faced a true veteran, Nonito Donaire, in his hometown of Belfast and Frampton produced his finest performance to date. With effective aggression, masterful head and upper body movement, and an unwavering chin, he walked the future Hall of Famer down for twelve rounds to claim a unanimous decision victory. Once again, Frampton seemed destined for supremacy, but the tides turned when he faced Josh Warrington in Manchester. From the opening bell, the Irishman was battered with flurries of hooks. He fought hard but, in the end, found himself unable to best the Leeds Warrior.
At the age of 32, this loss did not bode well for the future prospects of “The Jackal.” Frampton took an easy comeback fight against Tyler McReary almost a year later and won handily, but prior to his next scheduled bout he broke his left hand, the setback sparking rumors of retirement. Instead, nine months after the McReary win he knocked out Darrell Traynor with a left hook. It was poetic, almost calculated. Now, Frampton is on the brink of reclaiming another world title and re-establishing his elite-level status. But standing in his way is a slippery American with a sharp jab and significant advantages in height and reach.
“The Jackal” has been clear. All he wants is to be a legend of Irish boxing. And, when this era passes, there is little doubt he will find his place among its other greats: Steve Collins, Barry McGuigan, Katie Taylor. He rose through the ranks as one of the most successful boxers in Irish history. It is not his talent or courage that ever wavered, but his value as an attraction, a product, in this cutthroat business. Thus, it is not so much Frampton’s legacy that stands on the line this Saturday, but his time and place in the ring. And time, as Oates reminds us, is the invisible adversary of all boxers.
By most accounts, the odds favour “The Jackal.” He may step inside the American’s reach and wear him down. He might even lock him in a corner and finish the job. And if not craftsmanship, sheer will may be just enough to carry Frampton through to his biggest win in almost three years. But, if the Irishman falters, his weakness will be Herring’s strength. His miscalculations will become prey for a fighter just as hungry, just as ambitious. Either way, as Herring vs Frampton plays out, Oscar Valdez, Gervonta Davis, Joseph Diaz Jr., and others, eagerly await their chance to challenge the winner.
This spring, blood is in the air. And young jackals are watching, waiting to feast.
— Luke Beirne