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Talking Boxing

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January 26, 2017

Close call: Frampton-Santa Cruz 2 preview

Sam Eggington

Image courtesy of Esther Lin/SHOWTIME

by Andrew Harrison

In order to overturn a defeat, the vanquished boxer often needs to wage a more tactical, careful fight in the rematch. This is the dilemma facing featherweight action man Léo Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KOs) on Saturday in Las Vegas, as the Californian bids to avenge his sole defeat to 2016's Fighter of the Year, Carl Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs) of Northern Ireland.

Resisting a natural inclination to try and steamroll his opponent, using volume punching and a debilitating body assault, will almost certainly present Santa Cruz with his best opportunity to outhustle WBA world champion Frampton on the cards; however, whether he can apply such an extrinsic game plan with enough commitment to convince the judges he has outwitted the Belfast maestro, is another matter.

For Frampton, 29, proved too precise, powerful and, crucially, intelligent when the rivals went pell-mell in mid-ring last summer at the Barclays Centre, New York. In attempting to force an unmatchable pace, Santa Cruz, 28, brought the best out of the Tigers Bay "Jackal".

Frampton managed to consistently block Santa Cruz's attempts to mount his steady, suffocating rhythm with savvy distance control and powerful counter punching. It was the same effect he'd had on super bantamweight nemesis Scott Quigg a little short of a year ago: He made Santa Cruz question his own method.

It seems likely, though, that Santa Cruz – a pure winner who has held three world titles at three different weights – will return with a better performance. As has been well publicised, his preparation prior to their first meeting was disrupted by his father-coach Jose's battle with cancer - resulting in Léo being caught between two styles come first bell (Jose's health has improved and he has mentored his son through camp). In addition, the rematch will unfold in more familiar territory for "El Terremoto (The Earthquake)" on America's West Coast (a surprising concession from Cyclone Promotions, who guide Frampton).

Noteworthy also, is the fact that Santa Cruz had been somewhat mollycoddled by his manager Al Haymon prior to the first meeting. Sharing 12 rounds with Frampton, may actually have jolted Santa Cruz back into top gear.

For after a slow start, the mantis-like Mexican grew into the fight and enjoyed his best spells when he stood off Frampton and utilised his height and reach advantages to tag the Ulsterman, who was often guilty of backing up in straight lines. Whenever Santa Cruz veered too close, or hunkered down too low, Frampton employed skilful hands, underrated power, exquisite balance and a low centre of gravity to edge the exchanges.

And so both men may set out as raiders this time: Picking their moments to narrow the distance and fire off volleys of punches, before moving off and away. It should make for a nip and tuck, high-stakes test of nerve.

Frampton is the stronger man. Short yet bull-strong, his left hook is probably the one punch that could prevent another 12 round donnybrook. Often thrown instinctively after missing a right cross, Frampton has a canny knack of recoiling quickly in order to generate a destructive torque that powers his left. It was a thorn in Santa Cruz's side (face, arms, you name it).

In a match that pits two top class operators together at their best, the value bet is Santa Cruz via decision at odds of 11-to-4. The fancy, though, is for the favourite Frampton – still improving as a fighter after only 23 fights – to find a way to retain his world title on the cards in a fight that could prove closer second time around.