Warrior Carl Frampton will prevail in battle against Leo Santa Cruz

Carl Frampton pictured training in a Las Vegas boxing gym ahead of Saturday's WBA featherweight title rematch against Leo Santa Cruz at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas
Andy Watters in Las Vegas

WBA Featherweight Championship of the World: Carl Frampton v Leo Santa Cruz

TYSON, Holyfield, De La Hoya, Mayweather, Pacquaio… Only the giants of modern boxing are granted this stage and Carl Frampton can join them tonight.

Frampton knows Leo Santa Cruz will throw everything he has at him at the iconic MGM Grand Garden Arena. The relentless Mexican will bring the pain in round after round but, in the end; after he has had to “bite down on his gumshield and fire back” the Belfast warrior will prevail.

His victory will be impressive, and it will have to be because Santa Cruz will battle from the first bell to the last but, barring a massive shock, it will come and pave the way for ‘the Jackal’ to return to the unofficial ‘fight capital of the world’ again next winter.

There’s not much between them, but there’s enough.

Of course, if the Belfast man is off his game, or gets affected by his deserved favourites’ tag, then Santa Cruz, a three-weight world champion, could have his number.

But Frampton is a consistent warrior and always comes well prepared and conditioned, fully focused and hungry for victory.

Last July he traveled to New York as the underdog and ripped the title belt out of Santa Cruz’s fists with a display that showcased razor sharp reflexes, instinctive movement and accurate, heavy punches to complement and execute coach Shane McGuigan’s gameplan.

If he produces the same again tonight it will certainly be good enough unless ‘El Terremoto’ comes up with better than we’ve seen from him up to this point.

Santa Cruz has all the work to do. If he comes on in the same old way, Frampton will stop him in the same old way and add and add the WBC silver belt to his WBA title.

In the first meeting Santa Cruz’s predictability cost him in several close rounds and his indecision allowed Frampton to set himself and time him with counters as he came in behind a double jab.

Former world champion Paulie Malinaggi said Santa Cruz needed to find a new gear to win second time out.

“Leo needs to learn how to take a step back or two and feint to pull Carl out of position,” he said.

“If he keeps coming at the same speed Carl is going to be able to time him and know when to step back, when to counter and when not to.”

In Brooklyn, Santa Cruz got a foothold in the fight in the sixth and seventh rounds when Frampton got embroiled in a gunslinging tear-up. He’d like that again and there were signs at Thursday’s press conference that he was trying to bait Frampton in it by claiming that we would “run more” on Saturday night.

Leo Santa Cruz and Carl Frampton go head to head in their first WBA featherweight title battle in Brooklyn, New York

“I want to go toe-to-toe with him,” he said.

“But Frampton’s plan I think is that he doesn’t want to stay there and fight with me,” he said yesterday. I think he’s going to move because in the first fight he made the mistake of staying there and fighting with me so what I expect in this fight is him to move and try to run more.”

Frampton was unruffled by Santa Cruz’s gentle jibe and made his intentions clear: “I’m just going to do whatever I have to do to win the fight.

“If I’m clever I can make this a much more convincing win in my favour. But there are going to be times in this fight when I’m going to have to bite down on the gumshield and fire back and that’s what makes it exciting.”

One clear advantage for Santa Cruz is that his arms are considerably longer than Frampton’s. But he prefers to fights at close or mid-range and it’s difficult to see him reinventing himself for tonight’s rematch.

“Although he’s got a greater reach than me, I’ve never seen him use it really,” said Frampton who joked that he has been called ‘T-Rex because of his short arms.

“He always fights close, in the pockets but we’ll see. Whatever he has I believe I can adapt to it and I’ll be able to do enough to get the win.

“I was called T-Rex before. My arms are short and my torso is short but I can deal with it, I have good distance control, I have good feet and I think that negates my short arms.”

While gentlemanly Santa Cruz never raised any issues with the decision in Brooklyn he has said that his father Jose’s absence from training camp – while undergoing chemotherapy – had an influence on his performance.

Happily Jose has played a full part this time but Frampton pointed out that he was in New York for the first fight so he doesn’t expect the issue to have a significant impact tonight.

“It was a difficult time of the whole family so maybe mentally he’s not going to be right,” said Frampton.

“But in the lead-up to that fight his dad had been there for the last five weeks and he was in his corner so he was there.

“It was a tough time for the whole family but you listen to Leo before the fight and he came in well prepared and I think he’s going to come in even more prepared this time so I’m expecting again a very difficult night.

“If your father has cancer. It’s a difficult time for anyone and I don’t know how I would deal with personally.

“Leo is a very strong-minded person to be able to step into the ring when that’s going on.”

In terms of support, Frampton fans outnumbered Santa Cruz supporters in New York and ‘the Jackal’ expect 4,000 to cheer him on tonight.

“It could be pretty even, but we’re expecting 4,000 and 4,000 from back home will sound like 8,000 and they’ll make the arena their own,” he said.

“I’m hoping and I’m confident that we will all go home celebrating.”

Carl Frampton with the media after his public training session at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas.

The margins are small, but well defined and all the evidence points to a Frampton win. He has already shown he has the tools to beat Santa Cruz and there’s no reason to expect him not to bring them all tonight as he takes to the biggest stage of them all.

Santa Cruz wasn’t good enough first time and he’ll have to produce something unseen before now to avenge that New York loss.

We may not see the fireworks of the first fight but Frampton will look to take control by landing a big shot early on that will keep Santa Cruz at arm’s length.

By changing tempo and moving in and out of range Frampton will prevent his opponent from dictating the pace and the more desperate the Mexican becomes, the better chance ‘the Jackal’ has of landing the chopping counter that could force a late stoppage in what should be another engrossing duel.

A Santa Cruz win would force a third fight between this pair in Belfast this summer, but Frampton is the better man here and by then he’ll have his mind on a new challenge.


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