Santa Cruz takes his title back from Frampton

Leo Santa Cruz worked his game plan to perfection, evening his series with Carl Frampton. Fans eagerly await the third fight of the trilogy.

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Leo Santa Cruz (left) is once again the WBA featherweight champion with a narrow win over Carl Frampton Saturday. Photo: Esther Lin, Showtime Boxing

SAN DIEGO, January 28, 2017 – People who assumed Las Vegas would give Leo Santa Cruz of Los Angeles a home field advantage for his rematch with Irish WBA featherweight champion Carl “The Jackal” Frampton were proven dead wrong thanks to the throngs of boisterous Irish fans cheering on their hero.

But their loyalty could only help their hero so much against a improved performance by Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KOs), who applied the lessons learned in his loss against Frampton to win a narrow majority decision in a very close fight. Judges scored the bout 115-113 X 2 and 114-114. Santa Cruz is now once again the WBA featherweight champion. Frampton (23-1, 14 KOs) suffered his first loss Saturday.

The consensus fighter of the year in 2016 got off to a slow start, but started to make up ground mid-fight. Photo: Esther Lin, Showtime Boxing

The consensus 2016 Fighter of the Year got off to a slow start against a relentless attack by Santa Cruz, who wasted no time getting to work. Initially it seemed to overwhelm Frampton. Santa Cruz constructed an excellent game plan, working behind a very busy jab. No doubt his father and trainer Jose Santa Cruz had a lot to do with it. But it was Leo who had to execute, and he stuck to it with great success.

Santa Cruz seemed to win the first three rounds. By the fourth round, Frampton finally seemed to settle in, and his superior head movement helped him avoid the worst of it. Frampton landed his biggest punches of the fight during some wild exchanges by the sixth round. The pair continued to trade through the second half of the bout, each having their moments. But Santa Cruz was not about to let the fight slip through his hands, and poured on the output in the last third of the fight to prevent Frampton from staging any kind of comeback. It would have taken a knockout, and it didn’t come.

Leo Santa Cruz worked Carl Frampton to the body with more skill than in their first bout. Photo: Esther Lin, Showtime Boxing

The judges agreed that Santa Cruz won the first, Frampton the third, seventh and eighth, and Santa Cruz closed the show winning the ninth, tenth and eleventh round on all three cards. The judges disagreed about the remaining rounds, the sign of a truly close contest.

Despite the narrow scorecards, Frampton’s team did not dispute the results. A gracious Frampton said after the fight, “I feel that Leo probably deserved it … It’s one to one, so we have to do it again.” Frampton said he’d like to bring the fight back to Belfast since he agreed to fight in the U.S. twice.

Leo Santa Cruz worked his game plan to perfection, evening the score with Carl Frampton Saturday. Rematch time! Photo: Esther Lin, Showtime Boxing

“Before the fight, I said I wanted revenge and I wanted to work hard,” said the 28-year-old Santa Cruz. “I went to the gym and I worked hard and I did what I had to do.

“My head was telling me to go forward and pressure him, but my dad and corner were telling me to box him. That’s what I had to do. I always fight for the fans, but tonight I fought for myself too.”

Santa Cruz had promised to earn back his title and grant Frampton a rematch and he hasn’t changed his mind.

“Of course I want the rematch,” Santa Cruz said. “I’m a man of my word and I said if I won I would give him the trilogy. Carl Frampton is a good fighter. Let’s make a third fight.”

The visibly disappointed Frampton apologized to his many fans at the MGM Grand Arena “The brawler was out-boxing the boxer. My fault. I’m sorry … He was very clever and he used his reach. I think he deserved it. I’m being honest. But it was a very good fight. I think I can perform slightly better. No excuses.

“Let’s do it again. I hope he’s a man of his word and comes to Belfast. I hope he does.”

Fans got more of what they loved in the first fight, nonstop action from the opening bell. Who wouldn’t want a third serving?

Mikey Garcia nearly blasted Dejan Zlaticanin out of the ring with a devastating knockout.

On the undercard Mikey Garcia (36-0, 30 KOs) worked behind his strong jab to set up a third round knockout of Dejan Zlaticanin of Montenegro (22-1, 15 KOs), handing him his first defeat. Garcia is now the WBC lightweight champion, his third division world title.

Garcia had little trouble with Zlaticanin despite still seeming a little short of his peak skill level before his multi-year layoff. This should put fear into all possible opponents at 135 pounds, including Jorge Linares. Garcia will likely move up to the 140 pound division once he feels settle back into the groove. Although the boxing politics are against them, Garcia versus Terence Crawford talk is already happening

On the undercard, junior welterweight Ivan Redkach (20-2-1, 15 KOs) prevented his bout from going to the scorecards in the final minute of the eighth and last round with a  knockout of Demond Brock (13-4-1, 4 KOs). Redkach lost by knockout in one of his previous fights to Zlaticanin and suffered another lost to Tevin Farmer, and badly needed this win.

“I’m very excited. I couldn’t be happier,” said Redkach, who was leading on all three cards when the fight was stopped.

Super middleweight contender David Benavidez (17-0, 16 KOs) of Phoenix got right down to business against Sherali Mamadjanov (14-2, 7 KOs) , stopping him at 1:04 of the second round in their scheduled eight-round fight.

Benavidez knocked Mamadjanov down in the first round, and although he stood up he was badly hurt. It did not take much for Benavidez to finish him off with another left in the second for his ninth straight knockout win.

Benavidez has nine straight knockouts.

The bout between Irish IBF featherweight champion Lee Selby (23-1, 8 KOs) and mandatory challenger Jonathan Barrios (41-4-1, 22 KOs) of Argentina was scratched Friday when Barrios failed to complete the credentialing process paperwork required by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, a huge disappointment for Selby and his fans in Las Vegas.

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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