AT this stage of his career, Carl Frampton knows there is no margin for error.
The 2016 Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year and two-weight world champion has already achieved more than what the vast majority of fighters can ever dream of, but ‘The Jackal’ wants more.
On Saturday night, he will fulfill and ambition by topping the bill at Windsor Park in front of an expected sold-out crowd against Luke Jackson with his interim WBO featherweight belt on the line.
While it may not have been the opponent or title he had hoped for, that does not mean the 31 year-old can simply turn up and play the occasion, or ambitions of returning to the pinnacle of the 126lb division may vanish forever.
It has been unfortunate timing in many ways, with all four belt holders unavailable for one reason or another.
Josh Warrington’s surprise victory over Lee Selby back in May meant that the expected showdown the Welshman vanished, while WBO champ, Oscar Valdez is sidelined until November with a broken jaw sustained against Scott Quigg.
Gary Russell Jnr, the WBC champ spends his career in a perpetual state of semi-retirement, while old foe, Leo Santa Cruz’s reluctance to travel to Belfast to complete the trilogy meant his old title, the WBA is out of his grasp for now.
That could all change should Frampton, as expected, win on Saturday night against Jackson as the door will open to a title fight later in the year, most likely either against Warrington or Valdez.
However, that chatter is for another day as there is a job to be done on Saturday.
“Luke is highly ranked with the WBO, so it’s up to me to keep this momentum going that I have now to do a job on him and get a bigger fight before the end of the year,” Frampton agrees.
“I’ve done it (overlooked an opponent) before.
“I mentioned Alejandro Gonzalez and got put on my backside twice in the first round. I won’t be taking my eye off the ball for a second here because I think Windsor deserves a big performance from me and I think I will give it.
“He is a decent fighter, Luke Jackson, but I think he’s made for me.
“I will get about him, win first and foremost, but I haven’t stopped anyone in a while, so I’ll be looking to do that.”
The 2012 Australian Olympic boxing team captain, Jackson may have the moniker ‘Action’, but there has been more of a Tasmanian Devil about the Hobart native in the lead-up.
The 33 year-old has not been content to simply play the plucky underdog, but from the fight announcement went on something of a verbal assault, initially claiming everything Frampton does is ‘OK, but nothing great’, while subsequent comments have suggested the North Belfast man is in decline.
Frampton has certainly seemed a little riled by those statements and will use this to build on his impressive win over Nonito Donaire in April by coming in fully focused on doing a job befitting of the stage.
“He is a solid fighter,” noted Frampton.
“I think he has been a bit disrespectful to me, saying that I’m ok at everything.
“I was Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year a couple of years ago, a two-weight world champion so I think I’m a bit better than that. He’ll know all about it on the night.”
Jackson is unbeaten in 16 fights and his Olympic experience evidences his skills, but he has not been at anywhere near the level of the Tigers Bay man.
However, just because he has not been at that level before doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t reach those heights and Jackson insists he is capable of springing the surprise on his first foray away from home soil as a professional.
“We are coming to win,” insists the challenger who will have to contend with a top-class opponent as-well-as an extremely hostile crowd.
“I can’t be overwhelmed. Nothing is too much for me. Life is difficult for me, but boxing is easy. I’m coming to win and I’m looking forward to it.
“I think everyone is (writing me off), but I don’t think Carl Frampton will. He’s not that stupid.
“He knows boxing and he knows it’s going to be tough. This is a massive opportunity.
“If I beat Carl Frampton, I’m the one everyone wants and I get paid. I want to get some money out of this game.”
It is going to be a big ask for Jackson to make any dent in Frampton, however.
He does have some nice skills, employs a tight guard and will try to give the home favourite little to aim at, while countering.
Frampton, of course prefers to also box on the back foot, so it will be interesting to see whether he will press the action should he feel Jackson can’t make a dent in him early.
The Tasmanian is a proud man and will not be in any mood to crumble.
This is his shot at the big time and he is determined to take it.
“I’ve been working my arse off for 16 years and it’s hard to get any money out of this game in Australia. My promoter, Adam (Wilcox) will tell you that we are at the pinnacle there,” he explained.
“If we want to go further, then we have to come here and for me to be here and headline a show, I’m proud.”
Pride comes before a fall however, and Jackson’s comments in the build-up may come back to haunt him.
He hasn’t endeared himself to the Jackal Army and will surely feel their wrath in fight week and fight night.
Of course, the fans can’t fight for their hero, but will undoubtedly create a magical atmosphere in what is truly special occasion.
“With the place filled and seats on the pitch, potentially there could be a better atmosphere than there is for the football,” predicts ‘The Jackal’.
“I thought this (Windsor Park) fight was maybe never going to happen, especially after last year, but for it to finally be coming off is brilliant.”
A performance like last time out against Donaire will certainly help the fans find their voice and what a display that was as Frampton looked back to his brilliant best.
The discipline to evade Donaire’s big shots for the most part, bar one blip in the 11th impressed, but perhaps his best attribute, his footwork was on point once again as he darted in and out of range.
Frampton credits his trainer, Jamie Moore for helping him deliver such a display and has constantly said in the build-up, they are just getting started as a fighter-trainer partnership.
“I genuinely believe it was the second best performance of my career, certainly the most disciplined,” he recalls.
“I did everything – I went back and listened to Jamie Moore in the corner, carried out the instructions to a tee pretty much and I feel like it went well.
“I’m at the stage of my career now where people were maybe writing me off, but not they have jumped back on after that Donaire performance and are saying ‘Frampton’s still got it and there is more left to give’. I think I do.”
It seems that way, but one thing missing since February 2015 against Chris Avalos is a stoppage win.
Yes, there have been two more title belts won at different weights in a magical 2016, but perhaps stepping up to that elite bracket has meant opponents can take his power shots and he is less likely to take unnecessary risks.
The hunch is, he will be able to get away with a bit more this weekend and a stoppage could be on the cards should he go for it.
That will delight his fans, but also send out a message to the other top featherweights that ‘The Jackal’ is ready for them all, but there is nothing being taken for granted despite the carrot of another world title fight dangling.
“I’m not taking my eye off the ball because this is a fight I need to win,” he stressed.
“I’ll be up for it, but I need to get through Luke Jackson before I can start thinking about Warrington.
“He’ll be coming here to spoil the party, so it’s up to me to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Jackson won’t. Frampton is simply on a different level and while it could be easy to get carried away with the occasion, the Tigers Bay man has been around too many corners to get caught up in the hoopla. Expect a commanding display, a potential stoppage and Jackson sent home with the tail between his legs.