SAN DIEGO, January 27, 2017 – It wasn’t long after fight fans heard “And the new” at the end of a competitive fight crowning Irish featherweight Carl “The Jackal” Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs) the WBA featherweight champion with a majority decision victory over Leo Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KOs) of Los Angeles when talk began of a rematch.
Observers expected Frampton would take the belt back to Belfast and tell Santa Cruz to come and get it. It also seemed likely he would have another bout first, perhaps with countryman Lee Selby.
Instead, Frampton agreed to an immediate rematch and agreed to stage it essentially on Santa Cruz’s home turf in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Premier Boxing Champions event airs on Showtime Boxing at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.
Why would Frampton, the consensus 2016 Fighter of the Year (and our choice) make it tougher on himself than necessary? Never one to shy away from a challenge, Frampton said he always wanted to fight in Las Vegas, and jumped at the chance. Now that he’s in town preparing for Saturday, he’s soaking up the experience.
“Now, to be fighting, topping the bill at the MGM in the fight capital of the world, it’s something I never really thought about when I was a kid or when I turned professional. I never really believed I could get to this. But it’s here, and I’m hoping that it can continue for a long time,” said “Frampton.
“We drove past the MGM Grand and saw my face on the side. That was pretty surreal in itself… This was a big fight enough in New York, now I think it’s going to be like New York on steroids. I can’t wait to soak up the atmosphere on fight week, can’t wait for all of my fans to get here, I think it’s going to be a real carnival atmosphere and people are going to enjoy it.”
The Irish fans are already out in force, showing up to this week’s media workout to cheer their hero on. They’ll be loud and proud at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, but will be outnumbered by the Latino fans supporting Leo Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz says the fans helped him keep his head up after his first career loss to Frampton, and saw him through his father/trainer Jose’s battle with cancer. He hopes to reward their loyalty with a win Saturday.
“You never want that first loss to come. You give it your all and it’s really heartbreaking and hard. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to accept it,” said Santa Cruz. “I was really, really upset with myself because I thought I let a lot of people down.
“But after a few days, people were sending me messages to keep my head up, that the fight was really close. A lot of people were telling me that I had even won the fight. They made me feel a lot better and got my confidence back, and it makes me want to get up there in the ring again.”
Father Jose is back training his son and his cancer is currently in remission. Santa Cruz says he will be the best version of himself and mentally focused. “When I’m at the gym now, and my dad is pushing me or my brother is pushing me, I’m going to push myself hard. For the first fight, I was nothing like that. My dad wasn’t there in the gym, so I was thinking about him and how he was doing … I was wondering if my dad was in pain, or if he would make it through the cancer and be with us. My mind wasn’t really there in the gym, but this time around, it’s much different. For the last camp, we really missed my dad.”
If there is an improved Santa Cruz, he will face an improved Frampton as well. Frampton, who turns 30 next month, said he expect more from himself Saturday. “I genuinely feel like I’m getting better and I think Leo’s going to be in for a tough night here. If I can do what I’ve been doing here in the gym, perform like I’ve been performing in sparring, I’m hurting sparring partners, knocking sparring partners out. I feel like I’m developing, developing into a proper featherweight and I feel like he’s going to be in for a tough night.”
So fans can expect more of what they loved in the first fight, which was nonstop action from the opening bell. Frampton used his favorite punch, the left hook to the body, staying close to Santa Cruz to eliminate the taller fighter’s reach, then using his superior foot speed to get out of the way. When the action slowed down, Frampton was able to pick off Santa Cruz’s punches with his hand speed.
Neither man is likely to change his approach much, only the skill with which he deploys his strengths. Frampton is still the better ring general, and the smarter man in the ring. Santa Cruz is more aggressive, but he lacked accuracy in the first fight. If he can improve on his connect percentage, he will impress the judges and have a much better chance of slowing Frampton down, possibility hurting him.
Santa Cruz noted after the first fight how the partisan Irish crowd in New York may have affected the judges’ scorecards. While plenty of Irish fans are in Las Vegas, Santa Cruz will get the benefit of the crowd support this time. He will also benefit from home cooking, and we aren’t talking about his favorite Chinese food. The Nevada State Athletic Commission only allows local Nevada judges, and veteran Vegas referee Kenny Bayliss is assigned to the fight.
The scorecards for the first fight were 114-114, 116-112, and 117-111. Expect the cards to be even closer, but it’s hard to see how Santa Cruz turns the fight around without the benefit of the doubt from judges who will hear the same crowd roars for him that the New York judges heard for Frampton.
We predict Frampton will outperform Santa Cruz, but it might not be reflected on close cards. Whatever the outcome, fans will be treated to a fight just as good as the first edition. It won’t be a robbery if Frampton loses, just a headscratcher – and a recipe for a rubber match.
On the undercard for the second time with Frampton and Santa Cruz, Mikey Garcia (35-0, 29 KOs) gets his chance to gain traction as he rebuilds a promising career after a long layoff. He won’t have it easy against Dejan Zlaticanin of Montenegro (22-0, 15 KOs), the current WBC lightweight champion. If Garcia wins, it will be his third division world title.
Garcia sees his long layoff after just two fights in the last three years as a blessing and not a curse. “Had I been fighting during my layoff, I would probably be close to retiring by now. The time allowed me to go enjoy life and my family and come back to the sport with a new mindset and ready to work. There are still a lot of things that I want to accomplish in this sport,” said Garcia, a Ventura County (California) police academy graduate who intends to become a law enforcement officer after his boxing career is over.
Surprise, Zlaticanin plans to be aggressive. “I always want to impress the fans and give them excitement,” he said. “If Mikey stands in the pocket with me, it will be a short night. If he wants to box, it will take a little longer. But my goal is still to knock him out. It’s going to be hard in Las Vegas to get a decision against a Mexican icon like Mikey Garcia and this is why I’m trying to make it exciting and bring the fight to him.”
Garcia’s approach is more thoughtful, but still action oriented. “I love to jab and use it to set up other big punches,” said Garcia. “It’s a foundation for everything, even defense. A lot of fighters don’t use it, but I could use it for an entire fight. All of those big punches can change a fight, but the jab sets everything up.
“This is going to be a great division for me. I feel fast and strong and really believe you will see the best Mikey Garcia at lightweight … Dejan is going to come to win. I’m coming to take his title. It’s going to be a great show but I feel that I’m going to win a world title in my third-division.”
Zlaticanin is a human block of concrete, several inches shorter than Garcia. It is both an asset and a liability. He has good power and he’s tough to hurt. He’s never been knocked down. His last two fights ended with early round TKOs. But against the well-conditioned, aggressive Garcia, Zlaticanin could wear down if the fight goes into the later rounds. This bout has the potential to be every bit as exciting as the main event.
On the non-televised undercard. Irish IBF featherweight champion Lee Selby (23-1, 8 KOs) fights his mandatory challenger Jonathan Barrios (41-4-1, 22 KOs) of Argentina. Barrios has far more punching power and the potential to damage Selby if he isn’t cautious. But Selby should be able to outbox Barrios. Frampton called out Selby after the first bout with Santa Cruz, and Frampton could win a fight with Selby on cruise control in an all-Irish show at home in Belfast later this year. Selby wouldn’t say no to a big payday.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, Fellow PRSA, is an award-winning boxing journalist covering the Sweet Science for Communities and for boxing fans worldwide. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. She is owner of the Falcon Valley Group based in San Diego, California. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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