THERE’S a simmering animosity between Josh Warrington and Carl Frampton ahead of their IBF featherweight title fight this Saturday (December 22) that is helping to elevate it beyond merely a fascinating blend of styles.

Yes, it’s boxer versus brawler, and current champ versus former champ, but just as key to its overall narrative is the fact these two men, gentleman typically, seem to harbour some ill will towards their opposite number.

The dynamic could end up turning a chess match into an all-out war. It could lead to something quite special.

“I did sparring the other week, 10 rounds but with two different guys, and the kid I did the last five rounds with, there was a guy working his corner and Josh’s dad (Sean O’Hagan) knows him,” Frampton, the former featherweight champion of the world, told the Daily Star.

“They phoned him looking for info, saying, ‘What’s Frampton looking like?’

“That’s just something you don’t do. It sounds like they are a bit frightened.”

That was just the latest thing to rile the Irishman ahead of this weekend’s fight. Not that he’s willing to let it show, of course.

“There isn’t a lot of animosity, but he has said a few things recently to try to wind me up,” admitted Frampton.

“I want to do a job on this guy, I really do. I think he has said a few things that have been a bit disrespectful. He didn’t need to say them.

“I think I know what they’re trying to do. I think they’re trying to get under my skin. It’s not working. People have tried it before, but I’m as laid back as they come. It’s not going to affect my performance and what I do on the night.”

A cynic might say Warrington vs. Frampton needs an additional element – namely, a bit of needle – in light of the fact it goes up against Dillian Whyte vs. Dereck Chisora in Saturday night’s TV ratings battle. But Warrington and Frampton are hardly the type to manufacture something that isn’t there. Moreover, the pair’s abilities as fighters will always speak louder than whatever they are able to produce via soundbites.

Carl Frampton

Historically, boxing has a tendency to go from the sublime to the ridiculous, often within the space of a 12-round fight, and never has it been averse to letting its hair down and doing something a little bit silly.

The latest development some will deem silly is a so-called “exciting new combat sport that features boxing in a cage”. It’s the brainchild of International Championship Boxing (ICB), specifically founder and CEO Jack Fulton, and has apparently been in the works since 2016.

That was the year Fulton, an 18-year veteran promoter of the sport, decided the sport needed something new and fresh and felt the introduction of a cage would be the answer to everyone’s problems. Once convinced, the cage in question, known as ‘The Fight Zone’, took almost two years to be designed, built, patented and approved by boxing and athletic commissions within the United States, including the state of Nevada.

But fight fans can now rejoice. It’s finally here. Right in time for Christmas.

Not only that, former IBA middleweight champion Paul Mendez, 19-3-2 (19), has reportedly signed a multi-year agreement with the IBC to help spearhead the movement.

Fulton said: “Our first former world champion (steady on, Jack) has joined ICB, and I have every confidence he won’t be the last.

“I am gratified by the number of boxers, mixed martial artists and kickboxers who are reaching out to us.

“And it’s not just boxers and fighters from North America. We’re getting calls and emails from fighters in Europe and Asia who are eager to compete in the ICB.”

Mendez, whose nickname is ‘El Gallo Negro’, which means ‘The Black Rooster’, won the lightly regarded IBA middleweight championship in 2015 when he beat Ernesto Berrospe. Never dethroned, he retired in 2016 to look after his baby daughter, Love.

“I’m not scared or nervous of anyone,” says Mendez. “I don’t care if it’s ‘King Kong’. I’m ready to fight anyone, and now I’ll do it in the cage.

“When ICB came along I immediately saw it was a good fit for me. I’m a fighter, not a pitty-pat, and when I impose my size on opponents, this will be perfect for me.

“This is an opportunity for a fighter like me. I can and will use this as a platform to grow. I’m excited about it.”

According to an ICB press release, ‘The Fight Zone’ has red and blue entry points with two opposing neutral corners and participants compete under Association of Boxing Commissions rules: no clinching, no grappling and no kicking allowed.

Mendez, meanwhile, believes the ICB cage, this 24-foot hexagon, will very much be to his liking.

“Six corners, not just four, is to my advantage,” he says. “There’s more places to trap people. The ‘Fight Zone’ is all about angles and cutting off the cage.”

Yeah. Sounds bloody wonderful.