Carl Frampton has always said that he’s wanted to be involved in memorable fights.On Saturday he got his wish. The Belfast native defied the oddsmakers and enthralled a partisan crowd in capturing the featherweight title that his manager, Barry McGuigan, won three decades ago, overcoming three-division champion Léo Santa Cruz by majority decision in a wildly entertaining scrap at Barclays Center.
Ringside judges Frank Lombardi (116-112) and Tom Schreck (117-111) had it for Frampton while Guido Cavalleri scored it a 114-114 draw. (The Guardian had it 114-114.) Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs), making his debut at 126lbs after unifying super-bantamweight titles against Scott Quigg in February, became the first Northern Irishman to capture world titles in two different weight classes. And he did it as a 2-1 underdog against an unyielding thresher of a volume puncher who before Saturday night had never known defeat as a professional. “It’s a dream come true,” an elated Frampton said afterward. “I had the dream of winning a world title and I won it, but I never thought I’d win in two divisions.
It was a tough fight, I wanted it to be a tough fight because I wanted a fight the people could remember.” Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KOs) is three inches taller and enjoys a seven-inch edge in reach, but Frampton followed a note-perfect plan designed to neutralize those physical advantages. “Distance control and hitting hard,” he explained. “I won the fight because I didn’t lose control. I earned his respect early in the fight with my distance control and hard punching. I would love to take this man to Belfast for a rematch and show the people there what a great fighter he is.”
Frampton had the crowd of 9,062 in his thrall from the moment he emerged from the tunnel to Gala’s Freed from Desire, a moment that prompted a raucous sing-along throughout the arena. Cheers immediately turned to boos when the champion Santa Cruz entered second. From the opening bell the action settled into a familiar pattern. Santa Cruz moved forward in an attempt to walk down his opponent, while Frampton used head movement and deft footwork to score with counters and make the champion miss.
Santa Cruz was the more aggressive fighter throughout, but Frampton banked rounds early because he was more accurate and slicker defensively, at times making the Mexican-American seem flat-footed. Occasionally Frampton stood in the pocket and traded hellfire with Santa Cruz, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. If it wasn’t the most tactically sound approach, it certainly earned Santa Cruz’s respect. “I won it with my heart, not with my head,” Frampton later quipped.
By the middle rounds Santa Cruz’s disinterest in committing to the body attack, where he’d devastated so many previous opponents, was apparent. He could sense when Frampton appeared to slow ever so slightly in the eighth and scaled up his work rate. Over the championship rounds Santa Cruz came on strongest, answering ever Frampton punch with two or three of his own. But just when it seemed the Irishman was on the fade in the final frame, Frampton tapped into some untold reserve and fired back, keeping Santa Cruz at bay until the bell rang.
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