Big step up for prospect Frampton

When I was in Nottingham, England covering the Carl Froch-Lucian Bute super middleweight title bout on May 26, I had the pleasure of seeing junior featherweight prospect Carl Frampton fight live on the undercard from ringside.

I’d seen Frampton several times on video and liked what I saw, but it’s always nice to see an up-and-comer in person. You can better gauge his speed, power and general ring demeanor.

Although Frampton (14-0, 9 KOs) -- who was in supreme condition -- didn’t get the knockout he had hoped for, he still looked good that night. He easily outboxed and outfought the game Raul Hirales (16-1-1, 8 KOs), who suffered his first pro defeat, for a lopsided decision.

Big things are expected from the 25-year-old Frampton, who is managed by former featherweight champion and Hall of Famer Barry McGuigan. McGuigan and promoter Eddie Hearn have Frampton on the fast track, which got a little faster on Thursday.

Hearn announced that Frampton will challenge European junior featherweight champion Kiko Martinez of Spain on Sept. 22. The fight will take place at Odyssey Arena in Frampton’s hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland (with live TV coverage on Sky Sports in the U.K.), and it should be quite a night.

Martinez (25-3, 19 KOs) is no joke. His losses are two decisions (one of the majority variety) to Rendall Munroe, a good world-class contender, in European title fights, and a decision to former world titlist Takalani Ndlovu in a world title eliminator.

A win against Martinez would be quite significant for Frampton at this stage of his career.

“It’s going to be a great fight and a great occasion, and the kind of big night that Belfast fans love,” Frampton said. “I know he’s a great fighter but I believe that I will beat him.”

“Kiko is an exceptional fighter, world class puncher and a good chin but we are convinced Carl can win,” McGuigan said. “We are certainly not underestimating him by any means, but I believe Frampton is better than him in every department and he will show it on Sept. 22.”

Since the loss to Ndlovu in 2009, Martinez has won six fights in a row and regained the European crown. He will be making his second defense against Frampton.

“Frampton is a good fighter but I am the champion and I will retain the belt,” Martinez said.

Hearn announced that the undercard will include the return of junior welterweight Paul McCloskey (23-2, 12 KOs), of Northern Ireland, who has lost two of his last three fights -– a lopsided six-round technical decision to Amir Khan in a world title bout in April 2011 and a stunning 10th-round upset knockout loss to faded former titlist DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley on May 5. In between, McCloskey eked out a debatable decision against Breidis Prescott, who is best known for his first-round knockout win of Khan in 2008.