Carl Frampton arrives: Weekend Review
Carl Frampton: I’m kicking myself for picking Leo Santa Cruz to beat Frampton on Saturday night in Brooklyn. I should’ve known better. I almost always pick the thoroughbred to win but didn’t do so in this case because Frampton was moving up in weight to face a very good, very active opponent. And make no mistake: Frampton was the thoroughbred in the fight, meaning he was faster, more athletic and probably stronger than Santa Cruz. The fighters landed a similar number of punches but the Irishman’s were cleaner, which made the difference on my card (116-112 for Frampton) and presumably those of two judges (117-111 and 116-112). The third judge had it 114-114, leaving Frampton with a majority-decision victory and Santa Cruz’s WBA featherweight title. Lost in all the action was a good defensive performance by the winner: Santa Cruz landed only 255 of 1,002 punches, a low 25 percent connect rate. Frampton used his feet and head movement to avoid the majority of Santa Cruz’s punches and position himself to counter with his own. In short, Frampton gave a breakthrough performance that scored him many more points than his split-decision victory over Scott Quigg in February. He is instantly one of the best 126-pounders in the world. I think Santa Cruz did enough to earn a rematch but I’d rather see Frampton (23-0, 14 knockouts) fight WBC titleholder Gary Russell Jr., although I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Russell would be the better thoroughbred in that matchup but I think Frampton would have the edge in strength. Fascinating matchup.
Leo Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KOs) certainly has nothing to be ashamed of. The now-former-three-division titleholder used his considerable ability and strong will to turn a one-sided fight after the first five rounds into a competitive (and action-packed) one, although he could never dig himself out of a big hole. The problem for him was that Frampton demonstrated fairly clearly that he’s the better fighter, which at least at the moment leaves Santa Cruz a notch below the best in the division – Frampton and Russell. Of course, Santa Cruz could change that if he were to get a rematch with Frampton and win but I doubt either of those things will happen. I’m guessing Frampton will opt for a less challenging fight in his hometown of Belfast or face IBF titleholder Lee Selby of England in what would be a big unification fight in the U.K. And even if Santa Cruz were able to procure a second fight with Frampton, I don’t believe he’d win. Again, Frampton, in my opinion, proved he’s the better fighter. And he would be even more accustomed to the weight class than he was on Saturday. I think a rematch with Abner Mares makes sense for Santa Cruz, who must beat an elite opponent to regain some of the momentum he lost with his setback, but I’m not sure he’ll ever be seen the same as he was before he fought Frampton because we saw his limitations. I hope Santa Cruz proves me wrong because I’d like to see him remain near the top. He’s really fun to watch.
MOST EXCITING RETURN
Mikey Garcia was pudgier and perhaps a little rusty but he was still Mikey Garcia on the Frampton-Santa Cruz undercard. Garcia hadn’t fought in 2½ years because of an impasse with his former promoter, Top Rank. He returned at junior welterweight, two classes above the division at which we last saw him, against also-inactive but capable opponent Elio Rojas. And while his performance wasn’t perfect, it reminded everyone of the Garcia who was so dominating – so powerful – at 126 and 130 pounds before his hiatus. He put Rojas down four times, twice in the fourth and twice more in the fifth to force an entertaining stoppage. I think it’s too soon to say that Garcia (35-0, 29 KOs) has recaptured what he had when he last fought, in January 2014. He weighed 138 pounds for his fight against Rojas. He should have no problem making 135, his chosen weight in his comeback, and will be very strong. He has called out WBO lightweight titleholder Terry Flanagan, which would be a good fight for Garcia. Flanagan is very good but not in Garcia’s class and he doesn’t have much power. Of course, there are no guarantees. Two-plus years away from the sport is a long time; sometimes fighters are never quite the same after an extended layoff. Garcia gave us reason on Saturday night to think he’ll be OK but time will tell.
One remarkable aspect of Frampton’s victory relates to Barry McGuigan, his manager and fellow Irishman. McGuigan, a Hall of Famer, lost the same WBA belt in an upset to Stevie Cruz almost exactly 30 years ago in Las Vegas. … Sadly for Frampton he turned in only the second best performance of the day. Luke Aikens, a skydiver, jumped out of airplane at 25,000 feet without a parachute and landed in a net in the California desert. All fighters have big balls, not as big as Aikens’, though. … Rojas (24-3, 14 KOs) obviously couldn’t handle Garcia’s power but he gave a decent showing, particularly if you consider he had fought only once since 2012 going into Saturday. He outboxed Garcia the first few rounds and showed fighting spirit. I think the former featherweight titleholder could still be pretty good. Maybe 130 would be the best weight for him. … I also was impressed with Tony Harrison, who I had all but written off after he was stopped by Willie Nelson in July of last year. He has rebounded with three consecutive victories, including a dominating one against Sergey Rabchenko (27-2, 20 KOs) in an IBF junior middleweight title eliminator on the Frampton-Santa Cruz card. Harrison (24-1, 20 KOs) neutralized the aggressive Rabchenko with a long jab and hard, accurate rights. And the Detroit fighter finished the job with a straight right that put Rabchenko down and rendered him unable to continue. That version of Harrison is a threat to the top 154-pounders. …
Adonis Stevenson (28-1, 23 KOs) looked at least somewhat vulnerable against Thomas Williams Jr. (20-2, 14 KOs) on Friday in Quebec City but he demonstrated that he can always rely on his punching power. Williams rocked the WBC light heavyweight titleholder a few times but ultimately wilted under Stevenson’s heavy punches, with the end coming at 2:54 of the fourth round. Stevenson is likely to face Eleider Alvarez (20-0, 10 KOs), who easily outpointed Robert Berridge (27-5-1, 21 KOs) on the Stevenson-Williams undercard. Alvarez is a good boxer but I doubt he’d fare much better than Williams against Stevenson. … Unbeaten junior welterweight contender Antonio Orozco (25-0, 16 KOs) survived two cuts and a spirited effort from opponent Abner Lopez (23-6, 19 KOs) to win a unanimous decision Saturday in Indio, California. Orozco is the mandatory challenger to new WBC (and RING/WBO) titleholder Terence Crawford. I don’t see Orozco beating Crawford (can anyone?) but he has the grit and enough ability to make the Nebraskan work. … Another gifted featherweight had another strong night on the Indio card. Joseph Diaz (21-0, 12 KOs) stopped Victor Proa (28-2-2, 21 KOs) at 1:07 of the second round, proving again that he has plenty of power to go with his all-around skill set. Diaz could get a WBC title eliminator against unbeaten Englishman Josh Warrington, the winner becoming Russell’s mandatory challenger. If Russell decides to go up to 130 to challenge Vasyl Lomachenko, as he says he wants to do, then the Diaz-Warrington winner could end up as the WBC titleholder. … Paulie Malignaggi (36-7, 7 KOs) is the most versatile man in boxing. He defeated Gabriel Bracero (24-3, 5 KOs) by a unanimous decision on the Frampton-Santa Cruz undercard and then did analysis on the Showtime broadcast. Malignaggi, 35, has won three consecutive fights.