Santa Cruz Plays It Smart In Victory Over Frampton
by John Freund
On Saturday night at the MGM in Las Vegas, before a crowd of 10,085 in attendance, Leo Santa Cruz did exactly what he didn’t do in his first meeting with Carl Frampton – exploited his long reach to keep Frampton outside, and maintained his composure as he fought with his head and not just his hands.
‘Discipline’ was the word of the day for Santa Cruz, having thrown over 1,000 punches in their last contest, and whose style is that of an aggressive, high-volume puncher. Many, including myself, believed that Santa Cruz knew only one way to fight: straight ahead. But the Mexican-American proved us wrong by taking his time and picking his spots, something he said he would do coming into the fight.
“My head was telling me to pressure him, but my dad and corner were telling me to box him,” Santa Cruz told reporters in the post-fight presser. “Before the fight I said I wanted revenge and I wanted to work hard. I went to the gym and I worked hard and I did what I had to do.”
Steering clear of Frampton’s inside game limited the Irishman’s connect percentage. Frampton only connected on 15% of his jabs and 26% of his power punches. Santa Cruz bested him in both categories, notching 19% and 32%, respectively. It was a very different story in their first fight, where Frampton was able to use Santa Cruz’s trademark aggressiveness to his advantage. He evaded the 3-time World Champion’s lunging strikes and counterpunched with fierce efficiency, even knocking Santa Cruz off his balance in the second round, a feat which surprised many given Frampton’s step up in weight for the bout. But Santa Cruz played it smart this time by utilizing his 2.5-inch reach advantage to control the tempo and distance of the fight. That strategy prompted Frampton to be the aggressor at times that he probably didn’t want to be, given his penchant for playing defense and counterpunching. There were moments where the Irishman achieved success, like he did in rounds 6 through 8 when Santa Cruz seemed tired and inexplicably forgot his jab, but for the most part Santa Cruz held his distance and fought the urge to trade inside with his shorter and scrappier opponent.
“The brawler was outboxing the boxer,” Frampton said in his post-fight interview. “He was very clever and he used his reach. I think he deserved it. I’m being honest, I think he deserved it.”
All said it was a very even fight, much more so than their first affair which Frampton won handily. The official scorecards read 114-114, and two 115-113’s. Santa Cruz likely pulled out the win with some key exchanges that nabbed him close rounds. Round 4 was a barn-burner that saw both men trade vicious blows as Frampton was finally able to move inside and Leo stood toe-to-toe with him. But Santa Cruz ended the round with a beautiful uppercut that sent Frampton to the canvas in what was ruled a slip by referee Kenny Bayless. Nonetheless, brief exchanges such as those likely won tight rounds for Santa Cruz – and ultimately gave him the victory.
Luckily for boxing fans, both men have expressed their eagerness for a third fight.
“Of course I want the rematch,” Santa Cruz declared. “I’m a man of my word and I said if I won that I would give him the trilogy.”
Prior to the fight, Frampton acknowledged his desire to unify the Featherweight titles against fellow UK Featherweight champion Lee Selby later this year in his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Obviously those plans are now on hold, as he first needs to win the rubber match in order to regain his share of the Featherweight crown. But Frampton is already angling for the fight to take place in his native Ireland.
“Let’s do it again,” Frampton cheered. “I hope he’s a man of his word and comes to Belfast. I hope he does.”