Carl Frampton returned to the ring for the first time since January and picked up a questionable unanimous decision victory over Mexico’s Horacio Garcia before 10,000 fans at SSE Arena in Belfast.
Frampton (24-1, 14 KO’s), 30, of Belfast, was far from his best, but the judges scored the bout 98-93, 97-93, and 96-93 for the former two-division world champion.
Frampton struggled in the second-half of the bout, as Garcia rallied down the stretch, even scoring a knockdown in the seventh round.
“I got myself caught up in the fight,” Frampton admitted. “I was doing alright early on, but in the middle rounds, I tried to fight him. I was doing good things in patches.
“I wanted a hard fight,” he added. “I didn’t want anything too easy. It got the rust off, and the cobwebs are gone. Now, I want one of the big fights; I’m ready for them.”
Frampton lost his WBA featherweight world title in January by a clear unanimous decision Leo Santa Cruz in a rematch from their July 2016 bout, which the Northern Irishman won by majority decision. In both cases, each fighter handed the other their first professional defeat.
Frampton got caught in the first round with a left hook from Garcia but fired back with a combination of his own.
Garcia (33-4-1, 24 KO’s), 27, of Mexico, who had fellow countryman Saul “Canelo” Alvarez cheering him on ringside, struggled in the early stages with the hand speed of Frampton, but found success in the fourth round, as he trapped his opponent on the ropes, and unloaded a series of combinations.
Garcia continued to find the target in the fifth round, as he opened a cut on Frampton above the right eye.
In the sixth, Frampton found himself trapped again on the ropes, eating several hooks. He turned things around with his own right hook later in the round, but Frampton was struggling to keep the distance from Garcia, who sports a reach of 65”.
Frampton was ruled down in the seventh round from a left hook, though it appeared to be a slip.
Garcia continued to pour on the pressure as an exhausted Frampton attempted to stay away from his punches. In the ninth round, again, Garcia pinned Frampton against the ropes and had him in trouble.
Frampton wants a trilogy fight with Santa Cruz, IBF titlist Lee Selby, or WBA “Regular” titleholder Abner Mares.
“If I have to wait around and fight one of them in the summer, then that’s what I want.”