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Carl Frampton eyes back-to-back Fighter of the Year awards

Photo by Ryan Green / PBC
26
Jan

LAS VEGAS – Carl Frampton is sitting in his hotel suite with a plate of fruit across from him. In just a few days, he’ll climb back into the ring in an effort to duplicate the scintillating performance he put together against Leo Santa Cruz that earned him a nod in the Fight of the Year category and was the anchor that helped him nab the coveted RING magazine Fighter of the Year award for 2016.

He’s excited about the opportunity to fight here. He’s also thrilled that roughly 4,000 of his countrymen will cross the pond and descend upon Sin City with their rabid chants in support of their Belfast champion. But you know what the unbeaten WBA featherweight champion is really looking forward to? Surpassing his 2016 accomplishments and becoming the first fighter since Manny Pacquiao to win the Fighter of the Year award in back to back years.

“You never really think of picking up an award like that, you just think of winning a world title one day,” Frampton (23-0, 14 knockouts) told RingTV.com earlier this week. His management has asked no less than three times when he will receive his award. “I received so many awards but The Ring is the one that everyone wants. I was genuinely shocked but pleased and proud of myself. It’s a big achievement.

“But here’s the thing:  If I get off to a good start in 2017 it could be even bigger than last year.”

He doesn’t feign arrogance, just confidence that we have yet to see the best of Carl Frampton. He knows that the field is deep with potential threats to take the award in 2017. However, with the rematch against Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KOs) kicking off the year, he sees nothing but success that would supersede what he put together in 2016.

“I’m not going to think about getting it back to back but if I get three big wins in 2017 there’s a chance I can win it again,” he says.

It’s easy to tell that he’s more comfortable now at 126 pounds than he was in his last fight. His muscles are bulging through his sweater and he appears to be much comfortable making weight this time around. He slides over to the table and grabs a piece of fruit and makes mention that he’s enjoying making weight this time around.

“I felt very strong in my first fight but I went into that fight not knowing what the engine was like,” he says. “The ferocity of that fight with Leo, I couldn’t have fought like that at 122 because I was killing myself. This is my second fight at 126 and I feel better and I’m a bigger featherweight. I’m going to be able to take more and dish more out.”

What shocked most people about Frampton was his ability to weather the typhoon of punches that have become a trademark of Santa Cruz and effectively counter without taking much damage. Sure, the fight was close. But most picked Santa Cruz to takeover the fight in the later rounds because of his ridiculous work rate. That certainly wasn’t the case as Frampton adjusted and surprised his Mexican opponent with his punching power. The champion doesn’t think that the rematch can be anything less than another Fight of the Year candidate but he does believe that he’ll make it easier the second time around.

“I have a good boxing brain and I know what to expect,” he says. “When I spar, the first spar may be competitive but the second is not.”

Photo credit: Showtime

Ultimately, he doesn’t believe that Santa Cruz can alter his strategy enough to make a difference.

“I don’t think he can change his game plan too much,” Frampton says. “If you look at his previous fights, he fights the same way. What he likes to do is use his height and strength to overwhelm people. He’s always the bigger man. Although he’s taller than me, he’s not the bigger man. His tactics are to overwhelm people.”

Should he come out victorious, Frampton doesn’t shy away from mentioning the opponents he’d like to face next. He makes it a priority to state that he wants his next fight to be back home in Belfast. A potential showdown with Welsh fighter Lee Selby – the IBF beltholder who faces Jonathan Victor Barros on Saturday’s undercard – looms as a huge fight in Northern Ireland. Frampton nods his head in the affirmative when that fight is mentioned but he also spills out a few other names that would please boxing fans across the globe.

“I’d like to fight (WBO titleholder) Oscar Valdez. He’s young and aggressive,” Frampton rattles off. “(WBC beltholder) Gary Russell Jr. or Abner Mares are big fights that I’d be interested in. As long as you’re a name and willing to come to Belfast, you can be my next opponent after Santa Cruz.”

If there’s one thing about Frampton, he’s not interested in getting softballs. To seek out another top shelf featherweight after being involved in a potential war with Santa Cruz sounds ludicrous. But this is simply how the unbeaten fighter known as “The Jackal” gets down. He’s allergic to lower level fights.

“I like to please the fans and be involved in tough fights,” he says. “Guys like Santa Cruz and Valdez, because of their aggressive style, it will be exciting. Just give me the big names in 2017.”

He’s certainly talking like a man who wants that coveted Fighter of the Year award again. And if he gets his pick of opponents, who can deny him?

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