Carl Frampton may have found his perfect match
WBA featherweight champion prepares to fight Santa Cruz for the second time
WBA featherweight champion Carl Frampton: his appeal has brought thousands of fans from Ireland and beyond to the Las Vegas strip. William Cherry/Presseye/INPHO
Carl Frampton grew up in Tiger’s Bay dreaming of becoming a world champion, but it is debatable whether his wildest imagination captured him on a large neon billboard gazing down on the Las Vegas strip with his Mexican opponent Leo Santa Cruz. Frampton is fighting Santa Cruz for the second time under the bright lights of the MGM after their thrilling fight in New York set his stateside star high into the ether, culminating with a recent fighter of the year award by the Boxing Writers’ Association of America.
The WBA featherweight champion from Belfast said that every boxer needs a dancing partner, and he believes in the affable Mexican Santa Cruz he has finally found his perfect match. If this fight matches the first encounter, their cards could be marked for a trilogy. The men are similar in personality, incredibly amicable and intelligent.
Both men fight primarily to secure their family’s future and they have no wish to trade insults across a table. The pre-fight stare down was muted, ending with a warm handshake before they meet in the ring on Saturday night in the MGM. The men’s unbridled aggression in the ring is placed in stark contrast with their mutual respect and cordiality outside the ropes.
After beating the bookies in their last fight, Frampton is wary of his status as a favourite. He understands that Santa Cruz’s Mexican pride will not give him a moment of rest throughout the fight.
Devastating in sparring
Frampton has spent the last month acclimatising to the chilly January desert air. He has looked devastating in sparring, knocking out his hired opponents. However, his trainer Shane McGuigan has urged Frampton to use his head and not his heart this time, standing toe to toe with a granite Mexican may please the crowd, but there are easier ways for such an excellent technician to finish his night’s work and collect his cheque.
Frampton is blessed with ample intelligence inside and outside the ropes. He has an analytical brain that allows him to adapt in the ring at will. He is a master at measuring distance, working out his calculations perfectly within a round.
A decorated Irish amateur boxer, he is expected to use his superior boxing to ward off Santa Cruz’s predictable non-stop aggression.
Of course, it’s never that simple. Santa Cruz threw more than 1,000 punches in New York, and Frampton is braced for a similar onslaught, regardless of his defensive excellence, some will slip through his guard.
The Belfast fighter will use his gloves as a matador’s cape, before finding the perfect opportunity for a counter attack. Pugilistic patience will be a virtue under the hot lights of the MGM.
Caught in a brawl
Yesterday in Los Angeles at the Wild Card gym, legendary trainer Freddie Roach was sanguine about Frampton’s chances against Santa Cruz. “I can’t see anything other than a Frampton victory,” he said. “The first fight he got caught up in a brawl, and it became the fight of the year, but this time, I expect him to use that brilliant boxing he has, and to stay out of range. If he uses brain of his, it should be a points victory for Carl.”
Frampton’s everyman appeal has brought thousands of fans from Ireland and beyond to the Las Vegas strip. One fan sold his wife’s car and bought her a lesser model to fund his trip.
At a time when Stormont is combusting in predictable acrimony and division, Frampton stands as a symbol of unity. Two fans with broad Belfast accents were photographed together arm in arm, one in a Northern Ireland soccer jersey, the other in an Ireland one.
Scenes like this are typical in the Irish bars along the strip as fans from every side of Northern Ireland unite behind the little man from Tiger’s Bay with the heart of a lion.
Every fan feels they know Frampton, and in many cases they do. Despite his status as Ring magazine’s fighter of the year, he remains steadfastly normal. He lives in Lisburn with his wife and two children, and carries a photo of them wherever he goes to fight.
Legendary Irish figher
His only motivation when he steps through the ropes now is safeguarding their future. He secured his legacy as a legendary Irish fighter winning world titles at two separate weights, the only question now is what bouts will bring him the greatest financial reward.
Nearing 30, Frampton has said that he only wants to be in fights with recognised world champions. The Welsh IBF Lee Selby will compete on the same bill in Vegas and, if both men emerge from the desert victorious, it seems that they will fight in Windsor Park in Belfast.
Frampton is eager for a homecoming, not only in the ring, but to be able to spend more time in his beloved home city. He spends months training in salubrious Chelsea in London, but he is never happier than when he is in Belfast among those he knows and loves.
Frampton’s and Santa Cruz’s fans are salivating at the prospect of an all-out war to rival their first encounter in the big Apple.
Santa Cruz has claimed that he has learned from his mistakes and will adapt to use his superior reach to keep Frampton at bay.
The Jackal will have worked out the odds with his wily trainer McGuigan, and is favoured to use his head, not his heart this time.
However Frampton decides to fight, we should expect a clinical victory in sin city. The stakes have never been higher, but Frampton is fighting for something far bigger than belts now, he is representing the very best of Northern Ireland on a global stage.