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By Mark Whalley

  • Frampton beats Leo Santa Cruz by majority decision in a hugely enjoyable contest
  • “The Jackal” wins over the judges on quality and precision
  • Becomes the first two-weight world champion from Northern Ireland
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK – Carl “The Jackal” Frampton entered the ring at the Barclays Centre in the hipster capital of New York as a betting underdog against unbeaten Mexican Leo Santa Cruz, but left it as the new WBA featherweight champion.

In the 45 minutes between those two acts, he took part in one of the most entertaining and engrossing fights of the year.

This was the second career-defining fight of Frampton’s 2016. The first, of course, was his super-bantamweight unification with Scott Quigg, which not only failed to catch fire, but barely smouldered beneath the coals. The same cannot be said of his war with Santa Cruz.

Indeed, the fire started during his ringwalk. Piggybacking the claim to fame of his compatriot Will Grigg, he stepped in to the tune of Gala’s “Freed From Desire”. The Irish contingent of the arena (which felt like most of it) absolutely lapped it up.

Santa Cruz is class. His resumé includes victories over respected fighters like Kiko Martinez and Abner Mares. And most pundits leaned in his direction, citing his height and reach advantage, his phenomenal punch output, and his familiarity at the weight.

Yet it was Frampton who started the quicker, eluding the looping shots of Santa Cruz and catching him with short counters. And in the second he caught the champion with a scrambling left high on the head that sent him stumbling. But though the Mexican looked momentarily hurt, he regained his composure well.

As the fight entered the middle rounds, Frampton started to slow a little, and consequently he began eating more shots. On occasion he would sit in the pocket and trade shots. And whilst he tended to emerge on steady legs, it felt an unnecessary risk against a bigger man.

If Frampton has a weakness it is that his punches seem to lose some of their zest as a fight wears on. It was always thought that this would prove a problem against an opponent who can maintain their assets better. It felt as though this trait allowed Scott Quigg back into their fight, and the same appeared to happen here. Rounds slipped by where it was hard to count more than a few really substantial landed punches by Frampton. It should be noted, however, that he continued to do a terrific job of making Santa Cruz miss the target.

Home broadcaster Boxnation, plus much of the Twittersphere, had Frampton marginally ahead on the scorecards going into the championship rounds, and whilst I gave him a crucial twelfth (and therefore the fight), many scored that last round for Santa Cruz. A lot of observers declared this left them scoring the bout an overall draw.

That proved to be the case for one judge, who scored it an even 114-114. However, the remaining two judges gave it to Frampton (116-112 and 117-111), to the delight of the majority of the spectators. The last score felt too wide to be indicative of the evenness of the contest, but ultimately the result felt just. The volume was with Santa Cruz (indeed he threw a staggering 1,000 punches), but the accuracy was with The Jackal.

In the post-fight interview, Frampton repeatedly cited his mastery of distance as the key to victory. Distance is a very difficult concept to appreciate. It doesn’t thrill the same way as a lightning-quick combination does, nor take the breath away like a concussive right hand. But, like footwork, it is an unglamorous skill that separates the good from the great. To be able to stand at a distance that feels within range but actually causes the opponent to fall fractionally short is an art form, and one that Frampton is a master of.

Santa Cruz, to his credit, was magnanimous in defeat, though he felt compelled to question what impact Frampton’s noisy support might have had on the judges. If he wants his rematch, it might have to be in Belfast – so if he thought the crowd was against him in New York…

The win for Frampton opens up a number of exciting possibilities. Unfortunately for the purists, those possibilities don’t seem to include a showdown with Cuban slickster Guillermo Rigondeaux, who is simply too dangerous an opponent for the lack of commercial benefit. In days gone by, that fight might have happened anyway. In today’s era of smart management and revenue maximisation, Rigondeaux is far too much risk for far too little reward.

Instead, Frampton might turn to two Brits. Him against Lee Selby would be a terrific fight, whilst Josh Warrington would be a great earner whilst also being, one suspects, a relatively easy night’s work for someone of Frampton’s class. A Quigg rematch can’t be discounted either.

So much of the Frampton “narrative” revolves around the Barry McGuigan story. Being the national treasure that he is, combined with his family’s presence in Frampton’s corner, it is impossible for the comparisons to be avoided. But with his achievement on Saturday, The Jackal has broken new ground, enabling him to forge a proper legacy of his own.

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