Carl Frampton is the unified IBF and WBA world super-bantamweight champion after a split-decision points win over Scott Quigg at the Manchester Arena on Saturday night.
Five-and-a-half years of anticipation, big talk and hype culminated at the packed venue in front of what was expected to be a sell-out 20,000-capcity crowd.
It was nearly a fight of two halves as Frampton boxed in a measured fashion to take control of the contest before Quigg exerted his pressure later on.
There was a real sense of anticipation in the air and evident among the crowd. With a split that could be estimated at least 2-1, most likely more, in favour of Frampton. The carefree atmosphere of Frampton’s Odyssey nights in Belfast was replaced by a feeling of nervous excitement.
That nervousness seemed to transfer into the ring after the opening bell as neither fighter threw anything of real substance in the first round and Frampton possibly won the cagey opener on work-rate as he pawed Quigg with his jab although it was quite level.
It was more of the same in the second as the Belfast native attempted to find his range, while Quigg sporadically tried to throw powerful combinations, a few of which flirted with Frampton’s whiskers but failed to land.
Somewhat unusually, Quigg – known for being more of a pressure fighter – appeared to be boxing on the back foot with Frampton in pursuit of his opponent. Again, the IBF champion appeared a little bit busier in the third.
A big right hand from Quigg to Frampton’s chin midway through the fourth was arguably the most eye-catching punch of the fight up to that point, but the ‘away’ fighter took it well and out-boxed the Bury man for most of the round.
A little showboating jig from Frampton after he avoided a slip when moving off the ropes was arguably the most memorable part of the fifth, and the sixth was a similar affair as Frampton’s work-rate continued to win him rounds.
The fighters finally traded an exchange of substance towards the end of the seventh after Frampton’s nice footwork spun himself off the ropes, but by this stage Quigg looked a bit short on ideas.
Frampton had not appeared to really hurt his opponent, but the Irishman looked to be in control as Quigg continued to throw singe shots or two punch-combinations with little landing.
Quigg, often a destructive body puncher, finally worked his opponent’s body early on in the eighth and landed a good left hook to the head although he dropped the pace towards the end of the round.
The WBA champion put his foot on the gas again in the following stanza, however, as he threw shots to Frampton’s body and landed a big right hand on the Belfast man’s chin.
The rivals readily traded in a close 10th – possibly the most aggressive round of the fight up to that point – and Quigg gradually boxed with more and more pressure.
Quigg worked the body well in the penultimate round as Frampton looked drained by his foe’s body shots although he also traded shots to the ribs. Quigg landed a big hook late on but the Belfast man did not appear to be shaken by the punch.
A close final round was a hard one to call, although Frampton may have been a bit busier and the fighters admiringly embraced after the final bell to end their animosity.
Pittsburgh’s Ernie Sharif had little to do in terms of disciplining the rivals and Frampton was visibly delighted to hear his name announced as a split-decision winner.
Judges Dave Parris and Carlos Sucre had it 116-112 for Frampton, with Levi Martinez scoring it 115-113 for Quigg. This reporter had it 117-112 for Frampton.
Frampton insisted that the bout went as he expected afterwards but suggested that he isn't too keen on a rematch if bigger fights elsewhere can be made.
"I’m happy to have a rematch if the public demand it and it’s viable, but there’s other options and I’d rather move on to bigger and better things now," he said in the post-fight press conference.
"I knew it was going to be a boring fight to be honest, but you can’t really say that when it’s a pay per view! It opened up at the end, but I didn’t think it was close," added the unified champion.
Trainer Shane McGuigan said: "I'm delighted. What can I say? A unified world champion, my first ever fighter. Carl's performance was exactly what we wanted it and needed it to be."
Quigg claimed that a Frampton uppercut at the end of the fourth round broke his jaw and had a major impact on his approach to the bout, although he is keen to travel to Frampton's hometown of Belfast for an immediate rematch if the injury is not too bad.
“I thought the first four or five rounds were like a bit of a chess match. I felt in control, he was probably a bit busier [early on] but he wasn’t catching me with anything," said the Bury man.
“At the end of the fourth round he caught me with a peach of an uppercut that done my jaw," continued Quigg.
"Maybe I left it a bit late [to pressure Frampton]... One of the judges gave it to me and I felt very comfortable in the first four or five rounds but it was whatever you like – two of the judges liked him and one liked me," he added.
Earlier, Belfast bantamweight Ryan Burnett made it a double for Belfast as he claimed a wide 10-round points win over Anthony Settoul of France.
Burnett had his opponent on the canvas in the fifth round after a nice left-right combo, but the Frenchman got up during referee Ian John Lewis’ count and survived the round despite constant pressure from the Irishman until the bell.
The undefeated 23-year-old (now 13-0) couldn’t manage to stop his 29-year-old opponent (21-5) but he did deliver a dominant victory on the scorecards (100-90, 100-89, 100-89).
“It was a step up in class for me. I think I handled it well and it was exactly what I needed, a fighter like that,” said Burnett after his third win on the bounce in the Manchester Arena, although he is expected to headline a Matchroom show in Belfast in April.
Another Belfast fighter, Marco McCullough, was stopped by Isaac Lowe of Morecombe in their clash for the vacant Commonwealth featherweight title.
A big left hook from Lowe had McCullough in trouble and he came under immediate pressure as the former threw a series of punches. The Shankill Road fighter’s trainer John Breen moved to throw in the towel and referee Marcus McDonnell stopped the bout at 1min 56secs of the eighth round.
McCullough had been competitive up to that point, although he picked up a bad cut over his left eye (most likely from an accidental clash of heads) in the fifth.
Earlier, Tyrone middleweight Conrad Cummings took a 59-54 six-round points win over Victor Garcia, while Belfast flyweight Luke Wilton lost a 10-round decision against Charlie Edwards (100-90 on all cards).