These days the slow burn is something we're very accustomed to in boxing. Strategic maneuvering takes time when fighters have their paces slowed to fighting but a few times a year, and it can mean a greater financial windfall when a big fight is built up. Often it backfires when too much times goes by or interest diminishes, but when planets align and a fight becomes an event, that's the good stuff.
Unlike Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao, which had marinated to the point of becoming a pickled brine we're still trying to wash off, Carl Frampton vs Scott Quigg unfolded about the best way it could have. This weekend Frampton and Quigg meet, finally making good on the build up and years of trash talk.
It all started back in January of 2012, when Frampton made the first defense of the Commonwealth super bantamweight title by halting Kris Hughes. The following weekend Quigg, then the British super bantamweight champion, suffered a surprise knockdown before scoring a stoppage over Jamie Arthur. Both fights took place on Sky Sports and a tussle between Frampton and Quigg looked imminent. They were two dangerous fighters, both weighing 122 pounds, both roughly even in terms of development and building their names. It made sense even then.
Way back when, Frampton quipped, "[Quigg]'s a good guy. I respect him. But there's a rivalry there. It's brewing. It's brewing all the time." He told interviewers that he'd always wanted to be the British champion, thus Quigg possessed something that he wanted and was willing to take by force. When asked by Sky Sports about the possibility of the showdown Quigg said, "[An event like that] makes the hair stand up on the back of me neck. That's what we're in boxing for."
But boxing's usual foibles almost killed the possibility of a fight being made. While Frampton has been managed by Irish legend Barry McGuigan throughout his career, he had been with Eddie Hearn's Matchroom Sports before leaving for Frank Warren in 2013, further complicating an already sour relationship between the promoters, as Matchroom had recently succeeded in signing popular Warren fighters like Ricky Burns and George Groves. In an added twist, Quigg left promoter Ricky Hatton (who had been with Warren for much of his career) to join Matchroom just days after Frampton's departure.
Many chess pieces have shifted around in the last four years, but nothing has made a fight between the two less interesting, really. Indeed Frampton vs Quigg was announced last November, and the venue, 20,000-seat Manchester Arena, sold out in under 10 minutes.
Part of what makes this fight engrossing are the relative ups and downs the two fighters' careers have had, and the fact that they've constantly been compared to each other all the while. Just when one gains momentum, something happens with the other that evens matters out. Frampton seemed to be favored between the two from the outset, then Quigg captured the WBA belt. Quigg's standing dropped following a tough draw with Cuban Yoandris Salinas, and Frampton defeated Kiko Martinez for the second time to become the first world champion from Northern Ireland since McGuigan nearly 30 years prior. Now here we are, with Frampton having struggled in his last outing and Quigg having handled Martinez easier than Frampton ever did.
And the drama helps too. For instance, following Quigg's knockdown at the hands of Arthur, Hearn commented that it was proof Frampton would knock Quigg out. But now that allegiances have changed, Hearn is sure the knockdowns Frampton suffered against Alejandro Gonzalez, Jr. last July mean "[Frampton] won't last five or six rounds with Scott."
To round out the extracurriculars with more palpable potential, this fight should also be a stylistic success. Frampton's style is more relaxed and Quigg's more upright, but both tend to fall into the boxer-puncher category, suggesting this fight is unlikely to be short on skill, and both men carry a snappy punch. Frampton is more prone to falling in and getting caught, it seems, but Quigg's penchant for body punching means he'll also have to be within range of the Belfast-native's offense sooner and/or later. This may not be all out war, but neither fighter likes to go long without moving forward or striking out with hard, quick shots, and sooner or later they'll collide.
The good news for intrigued U.S. fight fans is that Showtime picked up the Frampton vs Quigg broadcast, but American interest in the fight was low in the first place and it doesn't appear to have been boosted by Showtime's involvement. How could fans so rabidly support the fight in the U.K. while nary a squeak is heard in the U.S.? It could be the lack of American fighters toward the top of the division, or that neither fighter has strayed far from British television. It also can't have helped that that Guillermo Rigondeaux casts a bit of a shadow over the division, even while lurking in the shadows himself.
Smoldering enthusiasm for the fight has rubbed off onto a small group of fanatical boxing followers in the U.S., but interest for big fights in the U.K. remains an entirely different animal, carrying with it an atmosphere that could so easily be bottled and sold.
Should Frampton be victorious this weekend, he will be extending an Belfast championship tradition that began with John "Rinty" Monaghan in 1947. Quigg's Lancashire roots run deep -- all the way back to Arthur Chambers, an 1870s lightweight champion who later advised John L. Sullivan and never weighed much more than 125 pounds himself. It might be a stretch to place over a century of history on the shoulders of two men who simply want to settle a feud and one day become the best fighter around, but the history is there regardless, and the winner of Frampton vs Quigg will be the latest one to make it.