Bitten off more than he can chew?

James Oddy
30/07/2016 5:33am

Carl 'The Jackal' Frampton is looking to take a bite out of the featherweight division tonight in Brooklyn. Leo Santa Cruz is the 126lb animal that Frampton is looking to hunt down and rip away the Mexican's WBA world title. But is he biting off more than he can chew with his debut at featherweight? James Oddy looks ahead to one of the year's great match-ups.

It’s been a peculiar 12 months for Belfast’s Carl ‘The Jackal’ Frampton (22-0, 14 KOs).

Seemingly on the verge of becoming a true crossover star, appearing on UK terrestrial television, he struggled against Alejandro Gonzalez Jr on his US debut. His much-hyped showdown with long-time rival Scott Quigg, which followed, didn’t provide the fireworks expected either.

Yet, looking back, perhaps those fights were a blessing. He admirably rallied after a poor start against Gonzalez Jr, after being dropped twice in the opening stanza, to win a unanimous decision. He then broke Quigg’s jaw and was rarely troubled for the vast majority of the 12 rounds in what was tipped as his biggest test. And, ultimately, he picked up the win on both occasions.

The lack of the spark he exhibited earlier in his professional career was partially put down to a trouble with making the super-bantamweight limit. So, inevitably, tonight he makes the step up to featherweight.

He meets exciting Mexican Leo Santa Cruz (32-0-1, 18 KOs) live on Boxnation (UK) and Showtime (USA) at the Barclays Centre, Brooklyn. Perhaps, because Frampton has lost some of his lustre, the fight seems to have crept up on people, despite having the ingredients to be a real classic, and surpasses the Quigg duel as the Jackal's toughest fight to date. On the line will be Cruz’s WBA featherweight title, the belt which Frampton's mentor and manager Barry McGuigan won so memorably in 1985 against Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road.

But it is a big ask. Santa Cruz brings an all action, volume-punching style. Despite being only 27, he’s cut a swathe through the lighter weight classes, holding world titles at bantamweight (IBF), super-bantamweight (WBC) and now featherweight (WBA). His 2015 fight against fellow Mexican Abner Mares was a fight of the year contender, and showed Cruz has plenty of tricks in his locker. He is willing and able to work on the inside, but that large 5ft 7ins frame allows him to box from distance if needed. Aside from Mares, he has beaten a clutch of other quality operators over the years, such as Cristian Mijares (54-8-2).

Santa Cruz v Frampton is a real 50/50 fight for me.

The stocky Frampton, at 5ft 5ins, has looked a special fighter at times. Taking at face value the idea he was drained at 122lbs as reason for his slight lethargy recently, a stronger, quicker and healthier feeling Carl at 126lbs is a mouth-watering proposition. But Santa Cruz is a throwback fighter, a tough Mexican who has come up the hard way. Both can hit, both can box, and both have shown more than enough willingness to trade with opponents.

Each have been prepared by two of boxing’s most well respected trainers. Frampton, by the highly touted Shane McGuigan, son of Barry. Despite not even reaching 30 years of age, the younger McGuigan has built an impressive stable of elite fighters. In Santa Cruz’s corner, is vastly experienced and former IBF super-featherweight champion Roberto Garcia.

The Barclays crowd is usually passionate and rowdy, and no doubt Frampton’s army of traveling support and Santa Cruz’s West Coast fans will continue that fine tradition. But, whilst it may be an unpopular opinion, I feel Carl’s fans will go home disappointed. Cruz throws an unbelievable volume of shots. Frampton will have his moments, and I expect him to win the first few rounds with a snappy jab. But Santa Cruz is vicious, experienced, yet fresh, and I can see him wearing down Frampton over 12 rounds with to earn a decent points victory.

Image courtesy of Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME