Frampton v Santa Cruz: Irish eyes to smile again

Frampton v Santa Cruz: Irish eyes to smile again

Las Vegas will turn green this weekend as thousands of Irish fans converge on the MGM Grand for part two of their hero Carl Frampton’s rivalry with Mexican star Leo Santa Cruz.

Frampton and Santa Cruz engaged in one of the best fights of 2016 in Brooklyn in July, when Frampton’s relentless pace saw him squeak a majority decision victory in a bout which turned him into a bona-fide boxing star.

And news of the pair’s rematch, this time in the deservedly more iconic setting of the Las Vegas Strip, was greeted by plenty of purring from boxing purists – and a mass Irish dash to the nearest travel agents.

It is more than just his loyal following which draws comparisons between Frampton and the last British fighter to truly take Las Vegas by storm – Ricky Hatton, who fought five glorious and deafening times in the city.

As with Hatton, Frampton’s fast and furious style has earned the respect of boxing bigwigs Stateside and a second straight win over former three-weight world champion Santa Cruz will only serve to enhance that status.

But while Frampton fully deserved his win first time round, after almost flooring his accomplished opponent with a clubbing left hand in the second round, he will be mindful of just how close the contest was.

And worryingly for the Northern Irishman, Santa Cruz has an obvious means of improvement, having failed abjectly to take advantage of his significant reach advantage in the first bout, allowing Frampton to bull in and boss the exchanges at close range.

You do not become a three-weight world champion without being able to adapt, and Frampton’s camp will be on guard for a new and improved Santa Cruz second time round: more the man who swept to the top of his sport with successive wins over Abner Mares and Kiko Martinez.

In essence, the result of this rematch boils down to the continuation of Frampton’s seemingly irresistible momentum, versus an experienced ex-champion’s ability to tweak his tactics in order to catch the judges’ eyes.

After James Degale’s majority draw with Badou Jack just a week ago, it is so tempting to recommend a second consecutive dead-heat at 20/1, but then a fight of this magnitude surely demands one tries to pick a winner.

With a stoppage unlikely – though it is not out of the question that Frampton may wear down a frustrated and fast-ageing opponent in the very late rounds – one must lean, just, for the champion to retain via another close but not necessarily controversial verdict at odds of 69/50, and send the massed Irish fans home happy.