Sublime and devilish

Andrew Harrison
31/07/2016 10:14am

Carl Frampton upset WBA featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on Saturday night, with a sublime display of boxing that earned him a majority decision via scores of 114-114, 116-112 and 117-111. In truth, the bout was closer than the latter of those cards suggested (Boxing Monthly scored it 116-114, or 6-4-2 in rounds); however, Frampton was a worthy winner in an absorbing affair, one that reaffirmed that when the world’s best fighters are matched together at their optimal weight, boxing, as a spectacle, can be hard to beat.

Heading in, most media members felt that Santa Cruz, (32-1-1, 18 KOs), would prove too big and too insistent for Frampton, (23-0, 14 KOs), to handle (this was Frampton’s first fight in the 126lbs division). The Ulsterman, though, has a wonderful knack of controlling and shutting down opponents, thanks to a blend of head movement, powerful countering and an acute awareness of distance and timing.

Frampton rendered nemesis Scott Quigg largely impotent in February, in a super-bantamweight showdown that never really caught fire. Here, he made one of boxing’s most relentless attacking forces back up, take care and second-guess himself before engaging. Essentially, he made Santa Cruz fight his fight.

Santa Cruz, though, isn’t an easy man to discourage. After a cagey opener, Frampton dug home some devilish body shots before clocking the Mexican high on his head with a left hook that rocked him back on his heels. It served Santa Cruz notice. It also loosened, for the first time, the stoic expression “El Terremoto” had been sporting all week.

Frampton landed a peach of a right uppercut in the 3rd round that stirred the 4/11 betting favourite into action. Unable to mount the sort of marauding, threshing assaults he is synonymous for (for fear of opening himself up to the sort of dynamite counter-punching Frampton had threatened him with), Santa Cruz instead held his form and boxed behind his fine jab and telescopic straight right – desperately searching for his usual smooth and destructive rhythm.

As the fight unfolded, it was often difficult to separate Santa Cruz’s orthodox boxing and greater hustle from Frampton’s more dynamic and powerful attacks. Frampton, though, like a Spanish playmaker, is adept at working in tight spaces. As they went toe-to-toe in the 8th, Frampton would drift inside the spidery arms of his opponent to tee-off with short, searing hooks and uppercuts that, once again, forced Santa Cruz to give ground.

After the 9th, as Frampton, Belfast, Northern Ireland, settled in his corner, the strains of “Danny Boy” - the Irish ballad that is synonymous with Frampton’s manager and mentor Barry McGuigan – echoed eerily around the arena. Quite what that must have done for the great man’s emotions is anyone’s guess? As Santa Cruz, California via Huertamo, Mexico, proceeded to take rounds 10 and 11 (seemingly draining Frampton’s reserves with a thumping right cross along the way) McGuigan, living every moment vicariously, stopped throwing punches and instead said a prayer.

Frampton closed strongly to take the final session and while that seemed good enough to earn him the win, there was a sense that the bout could go any one of three ways. And that was the real beauty of this fight. For while the officials’ decision deservedly went to Frampton, both fighters emerged with their reputations enhanced.

As has often been the way in the lower weights, where reward is often disproportionate to endeavour, the best fighters need great rivals in order to earn what they deserve. Frampton and Santa Cruz have that in one another. Inevitably, they will reconvene. Most likely in Belfast. And boxing will be great again.

Frampton fought a great fight on Saturday night.

Image courtesy of Ed Diller/DiBella Entertainment