By Ed Leahy
Carl Frampton believes that he is the world champion in waiting as he takes on Hugo Cázares in tonight’s WBC world title eliminator at the Odyssey Arena.
The unbeaten Irish super-bantamweight takes on former two-time world champion Cázares at the Belfast venue with the winner guaranteed a shot at the WBC title later this year.
And Frampton is confident that he will prove too strong for tonight’s opponent as he keeps one eye on a world title fight with champion Leo Santa Cruz.
Speaking to RTÉ Sport, Frampton said he was looking forward to the fight."It’s a world title eliminator for the WBC title against a good opponent. It’s going to be a great night’s boxing.
“It’s always exciting to get home and there is no venue this side of the Atlantic that is noisier than the Odyssey.”
"I’m fast, I punch harder, I’ve a good chin, I’m younger, I’m fresher and I’m hungrier" - Carl Frampton
But Frampton knows that he is in for a tough test in front of his home crowd against Mexican Cázares who has a wealth of experience at world level.
Frampton said: “I’m expecting my toughest fight to date. He is a wily old fox, he knows the game inside out.
“He’s going into his 50th fight, while it’s my 18th, so there is a gulf of experience there but I believe everything else is in my favour.
“I’ve got all the tools to beat him. I’m fast, I punch harder, I’ve a good chin, I’m younger, I’m fresher and I’m hungrier. But having said that, it’s not going to be an easy fight.”
And while the Tiger’s Bay boxer doesn’t think it is a problem to look ahead to the world title fight, he knows that he has a job to do against Cazares and will ensure that he is focused on it.
“That’s the thing about my career, people are always talking about the fight after the one that’s coming up,” said Frampton.
“It’s no different here (against Cázares) and it’s okay to look a little bit ahead. I don’t think that’s a problem at all but I do need to be completely focused because if I don’t beat him the fight with Santa Cruz isn’t there.
“I need to beat him and I think I will. And once I beat him, we’ll realistically start planning for Santa Cruz and start negotiating with the champion.”
Should that fight eventually happen, it will prove to be a box office smash, both here and across the pond, with Golden Boy promotions and American television keen to promote the fight.
And Frampton believes that he is ready for such a fight against a similarly entertaining fighter in Santa Cruz and such is the confidence in Barry McGuigan’s protégé that he is ready to travel out of fortress Belfast to make that fight happen.
“I think his style suits me and both our styles make for an exciting fight and I think we are the two most exciting super-bantamweights in the world and that’s why Golden Boy and American television want the fight.
“I am willing to travel, of course, but in saying that, I would prefer to be at home. But if not, I’m prepared to go wherever it takes to become world champion.
“For Santa Cruz, we could fill 18,000 seats at Ravenhill, but if it comes to it and they put you on a (Floyd) Mayweather undercard you can’t really turn that down either.”
Frampton has already defeated one of the current world champions, Kiko Martinez, and believes that he learned a lot from that night in Belfast, which he considers his best performance so far in the ring.
Frampton said: “He was a big puncher and he hit me clean but it never once made me stop coming forward and it made me realise that I have one of the best chins in the super-bantamweight division.
“It was an amazing atmosphere on an amazing night and probably my best performance to date.”
And while Frampton admits it is frustrating that he has not yet had a shot at the world title, he believes that his army of fans are feeling more frustrated as he edges closer to that elusive goal.
“It is frustrating,” said Frampton. “But it seems to be more frustrating for the loyal supporters here more than anyone. They believe that I should be world champion.
“But I just tell them that I am the world champion in waiting.”