Sunday, March 26, 2023  |


Irish fans make Carl Frampton feel as if he’s home


LAS VEGAS – One fan from Northern Ireland supposedly sold his car so he could travel to see the Carl Frampton-Leo Santa Cruz rematch on Saturday night. Another man announced to his fiancé that he also intended to go to America for the fight. She forbade it … but the wedding was postponed.

Such is the devotion fans from the tiny country have for their sporting heroes, whether it be the national soccer team, golfer Rory McIlroy or the talented little boxer Frampton, the 2016 RING Magazine Fighter of the Year.

As many as 5,000 green-clad fans reportedly have made the 5,000-mile trek from Northern Ireland to Las Vegas and they’ve made their presence felt, chanting and singing whenever they’ve congregated together at the MGM Grand. It’s impossible to miss them.

They were at their best at the weigh-in Friday. The MGM Grand Garden Arena, the site of the weigh-in, was curtained-off to hold 4,000-5,000 people and it was packed. And the vast majority of those present — some waving Northern Ireland flags — created a party atmosphere. It was as if we were in Belfast.

“He’s one of our own,” said Belfast resident Daniel Strain, sporting a bright green Northern Ireland soccer jersey. “He’s one of our own, just one of the people. That’s why we’re here. You have to support your wee country.”

We’ve seen something similar to this in recent years. Former two-division titleholder Ricky Hatton connected to the passionate fans of his hometown, Manchester, England, seven or eight years ago much as Frampton does his today. And they too would come to the U.S. to support their countryman.

Hatton and Frampton are superstars in their sport but also accessible, which endears them to their patriotic followers.

“People were able to relate to Hatton,” said Walter Marsden, also of Belfast. “He goes to the bar, he’s an ordinary guy. He doesn’t think he’s better than anybody else. People can relate to that. Frampton is the same kind of guy.

“That’s why he has the support of everyone.”

David Kelly, a boxing writer for the Belfast Telegraph, has known Frampton since he was a 16-year-old amateur.

Kelly has watched the fighter evolve from a gifted and driven kid into a major figure in his country, which is the size of Connecticut in land area and has roughly 1.8 million residents (about 600,000 in the Belfast area). He said only McIlroy, one of the top golfers in the world, and members of the national soccer team rate with Frampton in popularity.

“He’s absolutely huge,” Kelly said. “To give you an idea how big he is, when he fought on terrestrial television, 80 percent of the potential audience tuned in. Even the biggest soap operas don’t get that kind of number.

“… I think it’s a combination of Carl’s personality and talent. People from Northern Ireland identify with him. They identify with him as a working class or blue-collar guy who’s made it. And he can fight. They love to see an athlete do well. That’s why the passion behind Frampton is so exceptional.”