The first big fight of 2016 takes place in Manchester, England on Saturday as unbeaten titleholders Carl Frampton (21-0, 14 KOs) and Scott Quigg (31-0-2, 23 KOs) meet to determine who is the best junior featherweight in the British Isles. The winner of the contest will be recognized as the consensus number-two fighter in the division behind Guillermo Rigondeaux. Frampton-Quigg has had a long gestation process. After years of bluster, posturing and false starts, both sides finally agreed to make one of the premier matchups in boxing. Each fighter gave up a significant concession for the fight to be finalized: Frampton, of Northern Ireland, agreed to face Quigg in his backyard and Quigg had to settle for being the "B-side" of the matchup in the promotional build-up to the bout.
This fight features a fascinating style clash between the boxer-puncher (Frampton) and the brawler (Quigg). The oddsmakers have installed Frampton as a slight favorite but either boxer has a clear path to victory. Frampton possesses the better speed and boxing skills; Quigg is a vicious inside fighter and wears down opponents with body shots. In addition, both have exhibited enough vulnerability in the ring to plant the seeds of doubt, even among their supporters.
The stage is set for a memorable night of boxing but which fighter will emerge victorious? Below will be the keys to the fight. At the end of the article, I'll post my prediction.
1. Quigg can't dig himself a hole early in the fight.
Each boxer had an atypical result early in his last ring appearance. Frampton, usually a frontrunner, got knocked down twice in the opening moments against Alejandro Gonzalez while Quigg, who can be a slow starter, scored a second-round stoppage over former titlist Kiko Martinez.
Quigg has been knocked down twice in his career, both times in the first half of a fight. In addition, he needed to come on late to earn a draw against Yoandris Salinas (for the record, I thought that Quigg won the bout). Quigg can start off dry and everything in his repertoire, including his defense, seems to improve as a fight progresses. He likes close combat and it can often take him a few rounds to get to his preferred distance in the ring. He's not blessed with a long reach or great foot speed so often he will have to grind down opponents until he can make the fight into an inside battle.
Frampton has flashy hand speed and good power. He also possesses the boxing skills and ring IQ to dictate the terms of a fight, particularly in the opening rounds. Quigg must cut the ring off and close the distance early in the match or he will find himself behind handily. Again, Frampton's a very smart fighter. He's won't remain in front of Quigg to get pummeled to the body, especially early; Quigg's going to have to create his own luck. To win a decision, Quigg must take chances in the opening rounds. Instead of gradually raising his punch volume as the fight progresses, he may need to send an early message to Frampton (and the judges). Yes, this approach increases his risk of being out of position and receiving return fire but he can't let Frampton dazzle the judges with clean punching and ring generalship. Without forcing the pace, the rounds could slip away in a hurry.
2. Ring geography.
It actually might be a wise strategy for Frampton to slug it out in close quarters on occasion; Quigg can be chinny early in a fight and doesn't mind taking shots, sometimes to his own detriment. However, Frampton can win the fight on the outside while Quigg lacks the tools to prevail at distance. Using his legs, boxing skills and the ability to score off the front or back foot, Frampton faces less danger at range. He also features a crushing right hand from the outside.
Quigg wants a phone booth war. He goes to the body with such menace that opponents start to drop their hands, which opens up opportunities for clean headshots. Although not thought of as a one-punch knockout guy, Quigg has a variety of weapons that can end a fight, including his left hook to the body, his right uppercut and his short right hand. On the outside, Quigg can be tentative and at times will refuse to let his hands go. His main task in this fight will be to use footwork and angles to get into range. If he can corral Frampton, he will have a great chance of winning but if he spends most of the match chasing Frampton around the ring, he will taste defeat.
3. So how are Frampton's legs?
It was very disturbing to see Frampton getting dropped twice in the first round of the Gonzalez fight. One of the knockdowns seemed to be from a jab. Yes, Frampton rebounded and won the fight comfortably but he didn't resemble the best version of himself in the ring. His legs looked like jelly throughout much of the bout. He resorted to winning as a pocket fighter and he lacked the agility to move around the ring, which is typically one of his best attributes as a boxer.
Frampton had trouble making the junior featherweight limit last fight and he has already talked about moving up to 126 lbs. It's quite possible that Frampton has outgrown the division. If this is the case, then it's much tougher to dismiss Frampton's performance against Gonzalez as just an "off-night." Difficulty in making weight can zap energy, agility and stamina.
The opening rounds of Saturday's fight will reveal if Frampton still has his legs at junior featherweight. If he's in peak condition, then he will have an easier time neutralizing Quigg. However, if Frampton is struggling physically, he'll have to slug it out with Quigg, which is a much more dangerous proposition. Yes, he could still win that fight. Frampton has excellent accuracy and a large arsenal of punches. But a less-mobile Frampton provides Quigg with openings and opportunities that tilt the bout in his favor.
4. Quigg's body punching.
This key is quite simple: Frampton must limit the number of body shots that he takes from Quigg. Whether it's using the ring, pumping out his jab or tying up liberally on the inside, Frampton should avoid close combat. Quigg throws a variety of shots to the body, including left hooks, left and right uppercuts and straight right hands. In addition, when Quigg is performing at his best, he throws blistering combinations that feature multiple body shots.
Quigg might decide to gradually work his way into the fight, trying to force Frampton to burn up energy evading him. However, even in this scenario, Quigg still needs to land body shots during the first few rounds. Going downstairs will test Frampton's legs early. It's certainly possible that Frampton had trouble making weight again and these shots could make the fight much easier for Quigg. Perhaps Frampton might fold quickly because of his difficulties in getting down to 122 lbs. comfortably. However, even if Frampton is at 100% for the fight, Quigg's body shots will make Frampton far less mobile as the bout progresses. Going to the body consistently is his best chance of winning the match.
5. Home-field advantage.
This will be Quigg's sixth fight at the Manchester Arena. His record at the venue is 5-0 with five KOs. Not one of those bouts made it to the seventh round. It's safe to say that Quigg feels very comfortable fighting at that arena, where he has turned in some of his best performances as a professional. Frampton is no stranger to boxing in England. He has fought there eight times. And although Frampton has performed well on the road (with the exception of the scare in his last fight, which was in America), he will be facing a difficult atmosphere on Saturday.
Remember that promoter Eddie Hearn won the negotiations to stage the bout in friendly territory for Quigg. Not only will the hometown atmosphere buoy Quigg throughout the fight but the crowd (which should be mixed) could certainly affect the judging of the match. Yes, professional judges should ignore the background noise but it isn't always easy. In close rounds, Quigg's fans will be howling in support of their fighter. Judges are human beings; they can be swayed. Frampton will have to be mentally strong to prevail in this atmosphere. He needs to let his hands fly in the last 15 seconds of close rounds to help remove doubt from the judges and quiet the crowd. Stealing rounds will help his chances of winning the fight.
Any scenario could be likely for this fight. Either guy could win by knockout or decision. A draw also wouldn't be surprising. I've changed my mind several times in the lead up to the fight. Ultimately, there are two things that push me towards Quigg's side: Frampton's potential weight issues and Quigg's body punching. How Frampton's body looked in his last fight has spooked me. It isn't so much that he got knocked down as much as he lacked his customary speed and agility. I believe that he must feature those attributes to win a decision on Saturday. As far as Quigg's body punching, I have no doubt that if he survives the early rounds that he will eventually make the fight into an inside battle for large portions of the match. At that geography, he should get the best of the action.
The essential question is how early Quigg will impose his will on the fight. If he can start winning rounds by the fourth, then he'll be in good shape to win a decision. However, if he can't find the range or distance until the sixth or seventh round, he faces danger on the scorecards. Ultimately, I think that he'll pick up a couple of close rounds in the first half of the fight and then come on much stronger as the match progresses. The fight could very well come down to how the close 50/50 rounds will be scored in the first half of the fight. I bet that at least two judges will be sympathetic to Quigg's performance.