High stakes | 

Gloves are off as Barry McGuigan takes on Carl Frampton in legal fight

Ex world champion Barry McGuigan

Richard Sullivan

Ten minutes before the bell Barry McGuigan was in the ring, ready to fend off the first blows.

Only this time there is no bell, no ring, no stool, no Vaseline, no cornerman - all replaced with a sober suit, sober tie and a bench in the witness box at Belfast High Court.

And in the opposite corner is an opponent of a different kind - a learned QC, not armed with gloves but with a mountain of paperwork and files ready to pick over every aspect of his professional life.

In the midst of a war on an invisible enemy there is a fight going on in the oak-panelled walls of the Nisi Prius court at the Royal Courts of Justice in the heart of Belfast.

And it's the fight no one wanted to see.

The rights and wrongs are for others to decide, but we are witnessing the collapse of a dream - the Clones Cyclone, one-time world champion who united a nation, versus his protégé and mirror image Carl 'The Jackal' Frampton, the north Belfast man who conquered the world.

Former boxing world champion Carl Frampton

It was too good to be true. The fight game is about the guts and glory but it's also about the money and that's what this battle is about.

These are men used to parading into the ring in front of thousands of adoring and baying fans - on Wednesday morning Barry strode to the witness box in front of a sparsely populated courtroom.

The thousands were supplanted by eight socially distanced people and a judge.

Watching on were people like me, journalists and interested parties sitting at home, seeing it via a camera perched high in the corner of the courtroom.

We could hear the shuffle of papers, but there was no one to fidget in their seat, no one coughed or yawned, there was no one who forgot to turn off their mobile.

They say courts are sterile - this could not have been more so.

Carl watched on as his once-trusted friend, manager and father figure tried to fend off the blows rained down on him by Gavin Miller QC.

"That's cobblers," he said when challenged over an aspect of his financial dealings.

McGuigan with Frampton back in happier times

"I don't recall", "I don't remember" but Miller doggedly pursued him as Barry tried to stay out of reach.

He referred to his former protégé as Carl or Mr Frampton as Miller threw a bewildering number of figures at him - from tens of thousands to millions to a hundred dollar bill to a nail bar in Las Vegas, Carl and Barry's relationship is being stripped to the bone.

Santa Cruz, Quigg, Gutierriez - names you don't expect to be bandied about a Belfast courtroom.

At one stage Lord Justice McAlinden urged Barry to only answer if he was sure in his mind.

"If you don't know just say you don't know, don't speculate."

Barry repeatedly slugged at bottles of water, getting to his feet to leaf through the forest of files balanced on the witness box rail in front of him - reaching for a magnifying glass to read the fine points.

And it goes on, professional pride is at stake, neither party will admit to being on the ropes. On Thursday Barry said if Carl had stayed with him he would have taken him to another level.

Having accused him during the week of deliberately not making the weight for the Gutierriez fight, Barry stepped up the pressure.

Completing six days in the witness box, he said Carl "was like one of the family".

For the record Carl is suing his ex-manager and Cyclone Promotions for alleged withheld earnings.

In a counter-suit, Barry is claiming against the Belfast boxer for breach of contract.

Both deny the respective allegations against them.

I sat in my living room watching and listening as Barry discussed million-dollar transactions, fight purses, sparring partners and the disintegration of a relationship that seemed made in heaven.

Barry sucked on bottles of water in a navy blue suit, I drank cups of tea in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt - the strange world we live in.

As the kettle boiled, Barry told Liam Collum QC he had no plans to sever his relationship with Carl. Cup of tea in hand, he said had his fighter stayed with him he would have guided him to another world title.

"Carl was paid very well," he said, "he was very successful and achieved a great deal."

Their split came after an ill-fated scheduled fight against Andres Gutierrez in July 2017. That contest was ultimately called off when the Mexican slipped and injured himself in the shower on the eve of the bout.

"I'm pretty sure Carl would have beaten this guy [Gutierrez], would have looked good in doing so, and then would have had an opportunity to fight Leo Santa Cruz a third time, either at home in Windsor, or in New York or in Las Vegas," he said.

Mr Millar pressed him on how the boxer was liable for a contest that was called off.

"Because he walked out on his contract," Mr McGuigan said.

"I believe that he was negotiating leaving, and he was in the throes of walking away from us.

"He broke a contract where we had worked very hard for him for a long time, and did a magnificent job with him.

"Carl was like one of my boys. He was in the house every day, he was like one of the family," he added.

Courts are theatre, only this one didn't have an audience, no adoring crowd worshipping their heroes, no clapping, no cheering just echoes in a near empty room and the fate of two boxing legends .

Back in their corners for a couple of weeks, they put their gloves on again in November.

  • richard.sullivan@sundayworld.com

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