|Carl Frampton v Luke Jackson, Paddy Barnes v Christofer Rosales|
|Venue: Windsor Park, Belfast Date: Saturday 18 August|
|Live text commentary on the BBC website, live on BBC Radio Ulster, plus Frampton v Jackson on Radio 5 live|
“You either love him or you hate him. And obviously I hate him.”
Carl Frampton is talking about fellow Belfast boxer Paddy Barnes and, as evidenced by his failure to hold a straight face as he speaks, the opposite is actually the truth.
It is sometimes said that the real strength of a friendship is measured by the number of cheap digs at your mate’s expense that can be worked into an average conversation.
Using this scientific measurement, it can be deduced that Frampton and Barnes’ friendship is in rude health.
Times are good and excitement is in the air for the two 31-year-olds from north Belfast as they count down the hours until their huge show at Windsor Park on Saturday night.
Frampton has made no secret of his ambition to sell-out Northern Ireland’s national football stadium.
Indeed, one of his main stipulations when signing with Frank Warren was that a fight night at Windsor would be delivered.
His dream will come true on Saturday when he takes to the ring against Australian Luke Jackson in what is expected to be a stepping stone on his journey back to a world title shot.
Barnes too is chasing a lifetime dream when he takes on Cristofer Rosales on Saturday with the WBC world flyweight title on the line, merely six fights into his professional career.
It is remarkable that the pair, friends since their teenage days in the Irish amateur ranks, have followed two very different boxing paths and now stand together well over a decade later, both knowing that 18 August 2018 might just be the date that defines their careers.
In a city still longing to be framed by something other than its past, Frampton and Barnes have caught the eye of those not usually interested in the boxing world for their genuine indifference towards traditional lines of division in Belfast.
The fact that one is a Protestant from a Loyalist area and the other a Catholic from a Republican area has never been of interest to either boxer. It is not a case of being unspoken, just simply unimportant.
Where they do differ, is in the routes they have taken to arrive at this point.
Frampton joined the professional ranks in 2009 and quickly gained a reputation as a hot prospect. From the early stages of his pro career, “the Jackal” was earmarked to do something special.
Sure enough, the first few years brought with them a haul of European, Commonwealth and Inter-Continental titles.
In claiming the IBF Super bantamweight belt in 2014, Frampton’s ascent towards being heralded as Belfast’s favourite son gained a virtually unstoppable level of momentum.
This boxing-mad city had a new world champion. One who guaranteed bigger and better nights to come.
Successful title defences were soon supplemented by Scott Quigg’s WBA belt before his epic battles against Leo Santa Cruz that saw him snatch the Mexican’s WBA featherweight crown before losing it again in their rematch six months later.
So when Frampton put on a classy display to defeat Nonito Donaire at the SSE Arena in April, it wasn’t just the fighter who could breathe a sigh of relief.
The performance alleviated the deepest of concerns of fans across the country who were worried that the best days of the Jackal were behind him. Instead, he was back to his best.
By the time Frampton claimed his first belt in 2014, Barnes was a double Olympic medallist who was at the forefront of Irish amateur boxing.
Taking bronze in 2008 and 2012, he became the first Irish boxer to win medals at consecutive Olympics.
Sitting ringside at Frampton’s world title win four years ago, Barnes admitted that watching his friend reach the top of the ladder was every bit as sweet as his own triumphs.
After he was defeated at Rio 2016, Barnes took the decision to go professional in search of some of the big nights his best friend had become so accustomed to.
Despite a stellar amateur career, it was perhaps a surprise that Barnes was not afforded a wealth of offers from promoters keen to sign him up.
“They should have been queuing up for him but they weren’t,” said trainer Danny Vaughan.
“With Paddy being a two time Olympic medallist, you can sort of be fast-tracked when you turned professional. So that’s why such a big night has come his way after six fights.”
A reputation as the class clown is one which Barnes is happy to oblige regularly during media engagements and training camps.
“He is a joker, and what you see is what you get,” laughed Frampton.
“That’s what I like about Paddy, there’s a lot of honesty. Maybe he says things that might annoy people sometimes but Paddy is as real as they come, he says what he sees.”
Jokes aside, his rise to world title contender, insists his trainer, should not be underestimated.
“We all have good craic and the training camp has been a good laugh, but I work with him every day and he has given me his heart and soul,” said Vaughan.
“You’re going to see a top class performance from him on Saturday night.”
A night to remember
If either fighter was to hang up their gloves tomorrow, they could rightfully reflect on an excellent boxing career.
But it is a strange quirk of boxing that, despite all that has gone before, Saturday night at Windsor Park has the potential to define both of their careers.
For Frampton, Luke Jackson is not the belt holder that he envisaged facing but he is an opponent with no expectation and the knowledge that an upset would catapult him to world title fight shot.
Frampton simply must win if he is to ever reclaim his belts.
Barnes has the opportunity to write himself into the professional history books as the man who won a world title after six fights.
It is the kind of occasion that you suspect the pair will reminisce about for years to come.
“I remember years ago someone said ‘wouldn’t it be great to see you and Carl on a world title bill together’ and I didn’t think anything of it”,” says Barnes, before remembering he has to work in a cheap insult towards his mate.
“I don’t know exactly how long I’ve known him for, but it’s too long.”
It is love hate.