Carl Frampton makes the first defence of his IBF super-bantamweight title tonight when he faces Chris Avalos at the Odyssey Arena, Belfast.
This could be a major fight in British boxing history, not because of the standard of the bout, which is good if not outstanding, but due to the fact it’s being shown live on ITV, a terrestrial channel and one of the biggest channels in Britain. It’s over five years since ITV last showed a live fight – Darren Barker v Danny Butler, which drew a very respectable 700,000 viewers despite it being on ITV4, one of the company’s junior channels, and being on at the same time as two of Britain’s most popular shows in Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor.
Whilst Five, another terrestrial channel, has shown boxing sporadically over the past three years, the re-emergence of a terrestrial powerhouse like ITV could be a major boost to British boxing. Whilst Sky has been good for boxing in most respects, it’s never been that great for getting the poorer kids of society interested in boxing due to them being unable to afford the substantial subscription costs Sky charge, therefore the fan base is a lot smaller than what it was in the 80’s and early 90’s when ITV was the major broadcaster of boxing.
There are rumoured to be around 4 million subscribers to Sky Sports (Sky won’t release the exact numbers), where as ITV is available free to the whole of Britain, all 64 million people. That provides the sport with a potentially staggering platform to build from, the kind of platform that in the past has made major stars of Frank Bruno, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Barry McGuigan – Frampton’s promoter and mentor.
Whilst it remains to be seen how long ITV will be involved in boxing, the signs are good. They’ve got a new head of sport in Niall Sloane, who is a keen boxing fan, they’ve lost their coverage of Champions League football from next season, which was costing them in the region of £55m and was one of the few sporting events they had live coverage of, and they’ve seemingly got the perfect fighter in Frampton to be the spearhead of their boxing coverage.
Frampton is a genuine world class fighter, he’s improving all the time, is exciting to watch, wants the big fights and is an intelligent, polite and very likeable person out of the ring. In terms of potential marketability there’s only Anthony Joshua who could rival him in Britain, and he’s signed up long term to Matchroom and Sky.
Chris Avalos looks to be the perfect opponent to get ITV boxing off and running, he’s an entertaining come forward fighter, carries good power and is highly confident of causing an upset, and more importantly, is a level below Frampton in terms of ability. That’s no disrespect to Avalos, who’s a very good fighter, it’s just that Frampton seemingly holds the advantages in all departments. It’s a fight that should be entertaining and hard fought, but also one which Frampton should look good in winning.
If Frampton isn’t on top of his game then there’s a chance of an upset, Avalos can hit hard, as he showed last year when he dropped the usually teak tough Yasutaka Ishimoto twice en route to an eighth round stoppage victory, a victory that earned him this shot at Frampton’s title. That said, one senses Frampton won’t be off form, this is another huge fight in his career and another one in front of his raucous hometown fans that get him fired up.
This is a step-up in class for Avalos, Frampton’s way above anything he’s ever faced before and despite the American’s huge confidence in his own ability, he may be in for a shock when faced with Frampton’s speed, footwork and power. If Avalos is to pull off the upset he needs to close Frampton down quickly, work his body, wait for the openings up top and punish the champion when those openings come.
With Avalos’ attacking style, Frampton will most likely be happy to box off the back foot and counter Avalos, who can leave himself open at times when he’s throwing his own shots. Avalos will have a fleeting success or two but eventually Frampton should start picking him off cleanly and as Avalos tires Frampton will pick the pace up and will be aiming for a late rounds stoppage.