Carl Frampton always said that he wants to be a part of memorable fights. He got his wish last Saturday. The odds makers were defied by this Belfast native, and he managed to enthral a partisan crowd in securing the same featherweight title his manager Barry McGuigan won three decades ago.
During a wildly entertaining scrap at the Barclays Centre, he overcame Leo Santa Cruz through a majority decision. Tom Schreck (117-111) and Frank Lombardi (116-112) had it for Frampton, and it was scored as an 114-114 draw by Guido Cavalleri.
Frampton started at 126lbs after the unification of Super bantam weight titles in February, against Scott Quigg. He also became the first Irishman from Northern Ireland to secure world titles from two different classes of weight. On top of that, he did it as a 2-1 underdog, facing an unyielding thresher (a volume puncher), who never tasted defeat as a professional before Saturday night.
Frampton (23-0, 14KO) later said that it was ‘a dream come true’ for him. He had held onto the dream of winning a world title and he finally won it. At the same time, he admitted that he never expected to win in two different divisions.
Although it was a tough fight, he wanted it to be a tough fight so that it would be a memorable one. Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18KOs) has an edge of 7 inches in reach and is 3 inches taller, but he succumbed to Frampton’s note-perfect plan.
The plan was designed to neutralize such physical advantages, and it worked. Frampton explained that it involved hitting hard and distance control. He didn’t lose control and therefore won the fight. With his hard punching and distance control he earned Cruz’s respect early in the fight. He would love a rematch against this man in Belfast to clearly show the people that Cruz is a great fighter.
After his emergence from the tunnel, right up until Gala’s Freed from Desire, he had the complete crowd of 9,062 hooked. It was followed by a raucous sing-along, and it rang throughout the entire arena. When champion Santa Cruz entered second, the cheers quickly turned to boos.
The action settled into a familiar pattern after the opening bell. Cruz moved forward trying to walk down his opponent, and Frampton used deft footwork and head movement to win counters and make sure the champion missed.
Throughout the fight Santa Cruz was the more aggressive fighter, but Frampton was accurate and banked rounds early. Defensively, he was slicker and more accurate as well.
In fact at times the Mexican-American seemed flat-footed in front of him. During some moments Frampton stayed in the pocket and exchanged hell fire with Cruz.
The crowd soon went into a frenzy. While Fampton’s approach wasn’t completely sound in a tactical way, he managed to earn Cruz’s respect. Frampton later stated that he won it with his heart and not with his head. By the middle rounds, it was apparent that Santa Cruz was disinterested in sticking to the body attack.
He’d devastated a lot of opponents using that tactic but here it wasn’t working. He sensed when Frampton slowed down a bit in the eighth, and he finally increased his work rate. Cruz came out strongest during the championship rounds, and he answered every punch from Frampton, with two or three of his own.
In the end it seemed like the Irishman was starting to fade, but he magically fired up his reserve and kept Cruz at Bay till the bell rang. According to Cruz, the fight was tough from the very beginning. He earned 1 million dollars in Saturday’s fight, twice that of Frampton’s $500,000 pay cheque.