Carl Frampton, the busy Belfast boy with an entire nation in his corner, announced his arrival in the most exciting weight division in boxing on Saturday, courtesy of a stunning one-punch ninth-round knockout of Kiko Martinez.
In front of a vociferous home crowd in Northern Ireland's Odyssey Arena, Frampton inflicted the first loss in more than three years -- and the first stoppage of a 30-fight career -- to the Spaniard Martinez, relieving the long-standing champion of his European junior featherweight belt in the process.
Hot on the heels of September's sixth-round TKO of Canada's former two-time titlist Steve Molitor, Frampton improved to 16-0 (11 KOs) and confirmed his arrival as a genuine world title contender at 122 pounds.
Headed up by world champions Nonito Donaire, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Abner Mares, the junior featherweight division is red hot right now, with the top three being chased by a strong pack of young, undefeated and hungry challengers -- off which Frampton is now certainly a fully paid-up member.
With former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan in his corner (son Shane is also Frampton's head trainer), the latest in a long line of exciting Irish world title prospects showed he had the tenacity and temperament to go with the talent.
After a bright, controlled start from Frampton, Martinez took him into the trenches -- especially through Rounds 6, 7 and 8 -- but Frampton, 26, never panicked; he took his licks and produced the finish when it mattered most.
The finish, which came with 14 seconds remaining in Round 9, was as explosive as it was unexpected. Martinez was enjoying his best spell of the fight as his pressure was seemingly getting to the local prospect, who in prior rounds was getting caught on his heels with his hands down and had stopped slipping and picking his way through rounds.
But shortly after being caught by a warning right hand against the ropes, another crude Martinez foray was capitalized on by the young Irishman. As Martinez burst forward, Frampton took a small skip back and, with hooks winging in from Martinez, fired a straight one-two through the middle with the right cross landing flush across the jaw.
Martinez's fitness got him back on his feet before the count of nine, but he stumbled back into his own corner and was stopped by the referee just as Belfast exploded.
Afterwards, McGuigan and promoter Eddie Hearn spoke about Frampton, with McGuigan saying: "He can box, he can punch, he can take a shot. He can fight in the trenches and he can knockout a guy who had never been knocked out. This kid is a world beater."
Frampton added: "I want to be a world champ and I'm getting close. [Martinez] was tough as nails. I told him I'd box him at the start and fight him at the end. And that's exactly what I did. And I also showed I have a solid chin -- he's one of the biggest punchers in the division and I took them all day."
The fight European fans would like to see Frampton in next, of course, is with England's Scott Quigg, another of the unbeaten super bantamweights stalking the chosen few with the belts at the top. But that fight needs a world title attached first.
The problem for both Frampton and Quigg in the meantime, however, is how they get their hands on one from three of the very best titlists in any weight division.
On the undercard, former Emanuel Steward protégé Andy Lee began his career without the Kronk gym legend in a controlled points victory over game local scrapper Anthony Fitzgerald. It was Lee's first fight with David Haye's coach Adam Booth in his corner, and he looked relieved to get this new chapter of his career up and running after 10 rounds.