After their epic 12-round battle of last year, it would be unfair to expect Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz to produce even greater action in their 126-pound world title rematch. But that’s very well what could unfold.
After taking Santa Cruz’s title by majority decision in Brooklyn, New York, last July, Carl Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs) claims he is now stronger entering his second fight at 126 pounds and will be seeking a stoppage Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. ET).
At Friday's weigh-in, both fighters hit the scales at 125 pounds.
“Even though he’s taller than me, I’m the bigger man,” said Frampton, who at 5-foot-5 is nearly three inches shorter than Santa Cruz. “On fight night I’ll be heavier and stronger than him. He’s been able to bully opponents and wear them out, but he can’t do that to me.
“I’m developing into a proper featherweight, and I’m making a few adjustments to make things a little easier. He’s going to be in for a tough night.”
Leo Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KOs) finds himself in the unfamiliar role of challenger after experiencing his first career defeat. That setback basically left the former three-division champion without possession of a world title for the first time since he earned a 118-pound crown in June 2012.
With the loss to Frampton still gnawing at him, the 28-year-old Southern California native vowed to hold nothing back in his quest to regain the championship.
“I’m going to fight like this is for my first world title. I’m going [to Las Vegas] like I'm a nobody [wanting] to make a name for myself,” Santa Cruz said. “I’m coming with that kind of hunger.”
The fighters’ first meeting was an action-packed thriller in which more than 1,600 punches were thrown, including 1,000 by Santa Cruz, according to CompuBox statistics.
But while Santa Cruz landed more overall punches (255-242) in the Fight of the Year candidate, Frampton connected at a much higher rate, scoring with 36 percent of his 668 total punches, and landed more power shots (206-191).
Frampton was able to neutralize his Mexican-American opponent’s high-volume attack by stepping back and countering with skillful accuracy. But Santa Cruz insists he will be more elusive this time around while still maintaining his relentless punch output.
“My strategy is not to be there for his counterpunches, but stay on top of him at the same time,” Santa Cruz said, “breaking him down by working the body from the first round, and to hopefully stop him.”
“ Some people may think [the first fight] was an off night for Leo and maybe a bit of a fluke for me, so I need to let them know that it was no fluke and that I’m a hell of a fighter. ” Carl Frampton, 126-pound world champion
The win over Santa Cruz capped a breakout year for Frampton, who was the consensus Fighter of the Year among major boxing media outlets. The Belfast, Northern Ireland, native began 2016 by unifying 122-pound world titles in February with a split decision over unbeaten British rival Scott Quigg in Manchester, England.
Frampton, 29, then moved up in weight to challenge Santa Cruz, who won his 126-pound title in August 2015 by beating Abner Mares in Los Angeles after having already earned world championships at 118 and 122 pounds.
Although there were questions about Frampton’s power carrying over to 126 pounds, he quickly answered them when he sent Santa Cruz staggering back into the ropes with a short left hook in Round 2.
Santa Cruz recovered from that shot and had plenty of moments of his own in the fight, especially in the middle rounds, when he was able to catch Frampton with some combinations. This time, Santa Cruz said he expects to sustain his superiority from the opening bell.
“Frampton surprised me with a great shot that knocked me off balance, but he never caught me with a big punch that hurt or dazed me,” Santa Cruz said. “His timing and footwork were really good.
"When I jumped in, he would wait, take a step back and throw a punch. But I'm feeling stronger with better footwork, power and lateral movement. I’m really motivated for this fight.”
Santa Cruz also has fewer distractions after his father and trainer, Jose, missed much of his son’s training camp last year because he was undergoing chemotherapy for bone cancer. With his cancer now in remission, Jose Santa Cruz has been able to oversee his son’s complete preparation for Saturday's rematch.
Frampton said no matter the circumstances, he once again will be bringing his championship back to Belfast.
“There’s a lot of excuses floating around,” Frampton said. “Some people may think it was an off night for Leo and maybe a bit of a fluke for me. So I need to let them know that it was no fluke and that I’m a hell of a fighter.
“I’m going to [defeat Santa Cruz] again; I really believe I will. And I think I’m going to beat him in more comfortable fashion than I did the last time.”
For a complete look at Frampton vs Santa Cruz, visit our fight page.