Carl Frampton destined to become best Irish boxer ever, says Barry McGuigan

Belfast fighter upsets undefeated Santa Cruz to become two-weight world champion

It was one in almost 700. But for Carl Frampton it was a left hook that was one in a million. The most precious punch of his life came early on the Jackal's night of nights in Brooklyn on Saturday.

As subway cars rumbled underneath the Barclays Center's floor, it was Leo Santa Cruz, the previously imperious featherweight king known as El Terremoto (the Earthquake), who was feeling tremors. With a little under a minute left in the second round the Mexican was caught square and so true by a crushing Frampton left.

It sent Santa Cruz spinning back on his heels, back-pedalling all the way to the ropes – the only thing keeping him upright. Just one punch, but its aftershocks were felt for the rest of the fight on this, one of the most seismic nights in our national fighting history.

Frampton ended the night as WBA super featherweight champion of the world after a majority decision triumph that will go down as one for the ages.


It was a victory built on tactical tenacity, at times near faultless execution, a mixture of the head and the heart which proved to be intoxicating for the mesmerised thousands in the arena and so many more watching on.

Defines a fight

It was also built on that second-round rocket, the kind of punch that defines a fight. It told Santa Cruz, and the world, that in moving up to featherweight for the first time, the Jackal had added bite.

"The gameplan was distance control but to hit him hard and get his respect from the start," said Frampton afterwards. The belt his mentor Barry McGuigan had lost to America 30 years ago was sitting in front of him.

“I hurt him in the second round and although he was throwing lots of punches, he wasn’t throwing as many as he normally would. I said that once I nail him, the output isn’t going to be as great. Distance, control and punching hard. And then fight when I had to fight.”

Santa Cruz played his part in the instant classic too, however. He equally fought. While not hitting the sort of rhythm – Frampton simply didn’t let him – that had marked him out as one of the most ferocious fighters in the sport, the 27-year-old still threw over a 1,000 punches. But with Frampton’s footwork impeccable, the output didn’t reap rewards.

Santa Cruz landed just 255 of those shots, a connection percentage of 25. Frampton was much more economic according to both the naked eye and the numbers. He landed 36 per cent of his 668 shots and had significantly more power shots than his vaunted rival.

“It’s the toughest fight of my career. I felt like I had done enough to win,” said Frampton of his 116-112, 117-111, 114-114 triumph. “I think one of the judges had it wider than it should have been. I won by two or three rounds. I could have made it easier. I fought with my heart instead of my head at times but I think people will remember that for a really long time.”

That they most certainly will. The atmosphere inside the Barclays Center came close to matching the fare inside the ropes. With well over a thousand in the 9,000-plus crowd having made the trip across the Atlantic, not to mention a significant swell of locals of an Irish persuasion, the arena was rocking by the time Frampton emerged.

With Rory McIlroy, Paul McGinley, Frank Lampard and more ringside, Frampton busily set about proving the oddsmakers wrong having started a fight as underdog for the first time in his professional career. He raced out into the lead, taking all of the first four rounds in landing the vast majority of the fight’s clean, crisp shots.

Ferocious flurries

There was respite in the fifth as everyone caught their breath but it was brief as the sixth exploded into life as potentially the best round of boxing all year, both pedigree champions unleashing ferocious flurries.

Santa Cruz ate into the lead a little but there was to be no catching Frampton, not on this night when he and coach Shane McGuigan got so much right.

The Cyclone team have been patient and particular with their charge these past seven years. It’s an approach that has paid off handsomely with Frampton – at 29 smack in the middle of his prime – now able to dictate what rival and riches come next.

Should it be an instant rematch, he’ll likely earn significantly more than the $500,000 (€447,000) he got here.

“I would love to bring him over to Belfast,” he said of Santa Cruz, the Mexican having already demanded the chance to immediately bounce back.

“You could sell out a stadium. But I see [IBF featherweight champion] Lee Selby is here, a great fighter, so I’m going to have respect. I’ve been singing his praises for a very long time. That’s a fight that interest me. [WBC holder] Gary Russell. All these guys. I just want to be in big fights. Someone said to me yesterday ‘real fighters fight’ and that’s just what I want to do.”

Frampton is most certainly a real fighter, as real as any that the country has produced, only Ireland’s second two-weight world champion after Steve Collins. “I said a long time ago I thought he could be the greatest Irish fighter that there’s ever been,” beamed Barry McGuigan.

“Tonight was the greatest night of his life. We knew it would be a fight that would make him stand out.

“We knew it would be tough. Shane got the tactics with Carl spot on. I genuinely believe that this kid will go on to be the greatest Irish fighter that there has ever been.”