Santa Cruz hoping for continued success—and support—in Las Vegas

When a Mexican-American from Los Angeles and a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, square off in a boxing ring in Brooklyn, New York, there’s not supposed to be much of a home-field advantage for either fighter. But that certainly wasn’t the case in last summer’s scintillating matchup between Leo Santa Cruz and Carl Frampton.

Of the 9,062 fans who packed Barclays Center for the 126-pound world title fight on July 30, the vast majority were pulling for the Belfast-born Frampton, who was fighting on U.S. soil for just the second time in his career. In addition to the thousands of fans who trekked across the pond to support their countryman, the Big Apple’s large Irish community turned out in force for the 29-year-old Frampton.

The wave of support wasn’t lost on Santa Cruz, who wonders if the pro-Frampton crowd might have swayed the judges, two of whom scored the fight 117-111 and 116-112 for the challenger, while the third had it 114-114.

“When Frampton threw combinations, the crowd went wild and crazy. They didn’t react that way when I threw punches,” says Santa Cruz, who suffered his first career defeat. “So maybe the judges were affected by it, and maybe it influenced their decisions.

“I did think the fight was much closer—could have gone my way or have been a draw.”

Leo Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KOs) should feel more at home for his rematch with Carl Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs) on Saturday, when the 28-year-old former three-division champion pursues his seventh win in as many appearances at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. PT).

Santa Cruz debuted at the MGM in September 2012 when he defended his 118-pound world title with a sixth-round stoppage of former champion Eric Morel, who announced his retirement shortly after being dealt his only career knockout loss.

In all, Santa Cruz has stopped four of his six foes when fighting at the MGM—a pretty substantial knockout percentage for a fighter who is known more for being a heavy-volume puncher than a big slugger. Needless to say, the former champion is eager to return to the site of so many past successes.

“I’m very motivated since I’ve fought so many times in Las Vegas,” says Santa Cruz, who is trained by his father, Jose Santa Cruz, at The Who’s Next Boxing Academy near Los Angeles. “It's like my second hometown. I feel like I’m going to have a lot of fan support. I know when I’m tired and hear them scream, it will give me the energy to go the distance.”

Santa Cruz would be wise to recruit as many fans as possible to make the 270-mile trek from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. That’s because fight fans in the United Kingdom have shown they’re willing to follow Frampton wherever he fights.

In addition to traveling to Brooklyn for the first clash with Santa Cruz, Frampton’s fans made the journey to El Paso, Texas, in July 2015. That’s when Frampton made his U.S. debut, rising from a pair of first-round knockdowns to successfully defend his 122-pound world title against the late Alejandro Gonzalez, prevailing by unanimous decision.

Despite the nearly 4,900-mile distance between Belfast and Las Vegas, Frampton once again is expecting a lot of support come Saturday night; in fact, the two-time world champion said all of the tickets he was allotted have sold out.

That means the crowd likely will be more 50-50 than Santa Cruz would desire. Still, he doubts it will be the overwhelmingly pro-Frampton crowd he experienced at Barclays Center.

“I liked fighting in New York, but there weren’t many Mexican fans there,” says Santa Cruz, the most popular boxer in Southern California. “I know it will be different for the rematch in Las Vegas. I will have more support this time, and with my improved training and strategy, I will beat Carl Frampton, no matter what he does.”

For full coverage of Frampton vs Santa Cruz, visit our fight page.

Leo Santa Cruz

Leo Santa Cruz is looking to rebound from his first career defeat—and improve to 7-0 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas—when he meets 126-pound world champion Carl Frampton on Saturday. (Andy Samuelson/Premier Boxing Champions)

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