Wayne McCullough backs Carl Frampton to handle step up

Wayne McCullough is confident Carl Framton (below) can beat Leo Santa Cruz in New York&nbsp;<br />Picture by Hugh Russell
Wayne McCullough is confident Carl Framton (below) can beat Leo Santa Cruz in New York 
Picture by Hugh Russell

CARL FRAMPTON steps up to featherweight for the first time in his professional career when he takes on WBA champ Leo Santa Cruz in Brooklyn, New York on July 30.

After reaching the end of the road at super- bantamweight, ‘the Jackal’ elected to give up his IBF and WBA titles to move 4lbs (that’s slightly more than the weight of a two-slice toaster) up in weight. What difference, if any, will it make? Will he be pushed around by bigger, heavier men? Will his punching power be as effective?

Wayne McCullough was undefeated as a bantamweight before he moved through the divisions to chase titles at super-bantam and featherweight. McCullough gave up his bantamweight belt up to fight Daniel Zaragoza (WBC World super bantamweight title) and then I stepped up to featherweight for world title rumbles with Naseem Hamed and Scott Harrison.

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AW: Frampton moves from 122lbs to 126lbs. How much difference does 4lbs make to a fighter?

W McC: I was undefeated as a bantamweight and when it came to the fight night I was bigger (than the 118lb limit). You weighed in the day before and I was fighting guys who were probably shorter than me – I weighed in at 118lb (8st 6oz) and maybe stepped into the ring at 124 or 1-25lb

When I fought Erik Morales at super-bantam I probably got into the ring at 125 or 126lb and he probably got in around 130-ish so we weren’t much of a difference.

AW: After Zaragoza (split decision loss) you stepped up from super-bantam to featherweight to fight Hamed and then Harrison. That proved to be more difficult for you?

W McC: I felt okay at super-bantamweight; bantam to super-bantam was fine. But when I went to featherweight I felt a big difference. I was taller than Hamed but he was bigger physically – his legs and arms were bigger. I’d say he got into the ring about 140lbs and I got in around 128lb.

But the worst difference was when I fought Scott Harrison - he looked like he was a welterweight getting into the ring. Both of us weighed-in pretty much the same but when we got into the ring he must have been 10 stone or more. I felt the difference in that fight - physically you could feel the strength, he could push you around a lot easier.

Nobody could push me around at bantamweight or super-bantam but at featherweight I just seemed to get pushed around a little bit. It wasn’t really my weight class.

AW: Do you think Frampton will experience something similar?

W McC: Carl is going from super-bantam to featherweight, so he should be comfortable enough; it’s not that big of a jump up. Santa Cruz actually started lighter as a pro than Carl did, he was bantamweight champ and then he went to super-bantam.

He moved up pretty quickly to feather because he’s a tall dude – he’s about 5’8” which is pretty tall for that weight class.

AW: Frampton should be able to carry his punching power up to featherweight then?

W McC: Yeah, he should.

AW: Look at Leo Santa Cruz. He seems to be knocking people out as a featherweight. Maybe he was struggling to make the lower weight classes himself because he’s such a big guy?

W McC: He knocked Kiko Martinez out cold with the right hand in his last fight.

AW: Do you rate Santa Cruz?

W McC: He can bang a bit, he’s got a good engine and I think he’s more comfortable at this weight class. I could see him going up to 130lbs in the future, he has talked about it. He’s like Oscar De La Hoya. When he won his Olympic medal he was a lightweight and when he turned pro he was a super-featherweight and won his first belt.

Then he went up to welter and up to middleweight when he fought Bernard Hopkins and Felix Sturm but he shouldn’t have done that.

AW: Is Santa Cruz the best Frampton has faced so far?

W McC: I would say that Leo Santa Cruz is a step up for Carl, but Carl is a step up for him too. Kiko Martinez is the best Carl has been in with and he is the type of guy you don’t have to go looking for, he is right in your face - he stands in front of you and you can’t miss him.

He acted like he was a big puncher because he knocked out Bernard Dunne but he’s not a big puncher. I was supposed to fight him back in 2007 but it didn’t happen - I think he is a guy who looks like he was a puncher but he really isn’t.

Carl stopped him in the first fight with no problems at all and he was hitting harder than he was. But I think Gary Russell jnr is the best in the division - he’s like Pernell Whittaker with a punch. Of course you’ve got Rigondeaux, who nobody wants to fight. People say he’s boring, but Floyd Mayweather was boring too - look at the skill level.

AW: Frampton was put down twice by Alejandro Gonzalez junior on his US debut last year last year and your comments afterwards didn’t go down well in his camp?

W McC: I’m behind Carl. After the fight in Mexico I said: ‘you got dropped twice, don’t make excuses, save it for your book’ and he stopped following me on Twitter. If you make excuses after a fight it makes you look like a cry baby and of course I got criticised for that, but Carl knows I’m behind him.

AW: You had a lot of Irish-American fans behind you in massive fights all over the USA - will Frampton enjoy the same level of support out there?

W McC: My first fight was in a little town 25 miles outside LA and I’d only been in the country three days. On the night the venue was full of Irish people and my promoter gave me an extra $1000 because of the crowd that came along.

My second fight was in the theatre room at Madison Square Garden and we got all the Irish people out there too. My fourth fight was Boston, my fifth was Denver, six was in Philadelphia… I fought everywhere -  Boston, Atlantic City, Philly, New York, Las Vegas… all over.

AW: I know people who were at that fight against Prince Naseem in Atlantic City who still talk about the atmosphere?

W McC: It was brilliant; you would have thought you were back home. Hamed thought coming to America people were going to give the attention to him but he forgot I was based here with 36 million people of Irish descent.

It would have put shivers down your spine and Michael Flatley (The Lord of the Dance) walked me to the ring that night.

AW: Frampton will enjoy the same buzz in Brooklyn?

W McC: Hopefully they’ll tap into that market. They all came out and supported me and you have to show your appreciation to them too - show them that you’re fighting for everybody. Santa Cruz will have a big following in the US too though.

AW: What sort of fight do you expect?

W McC: I’d say Carl would be better off using his good jab and trying to use angles. Santa Cruz has his hands high and he walks in, he has a long reach and he bangs straight down the middle. If I was training Carl I would tell him to make angles and jab to the body and head and don’t move backwards, just move from side to side and control the centre of the ring.

Hopefully they’ve worked that out. He needs to step to the side and stay out of the middle - if he stays there he’s right in the line of fire and he doesn’t want to be there. Hopefully that gameplan will have been done two months ago.