Santa Cruz respects Frampton’s toughness but sees flaws in his game

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Leo Santa Cruz got a glimpse of Carl Frampton’s vulnerability and durability during the latter’s U.S. debut a year ago.

Leo Santa Cruz

Leo Santa Cruz, who has won world championships in three weight classes, will defend his 126-pound title for the second time when he battles Carl Frampton on July 30 in Brooklyn, New York. (Scott Hirano/Showtime)

That’s when Frampton—defending his 122-pound title for a second time—rose from a pair of first-round knockdowns and battled back for a unanimous decision over Alejandro Gonzalez Jr. in El Paso, Texas.

After hitting the deck from a stiff jab within the bout’s first minute, Frampton was floored a second time by a straight right to the ear during an exchange in the final seconds of the round. That left the 5-foot-5 Northern Irishman in a 10-7 hole, but he managed to dig out of it and earn a convincing win on the scorecards.

“Frampton showed that he is a tough fighter coming back to [beat Gonzalez],” says Santa Cruz, a 27-year-old three-division champion. “But I saw that he got hurt and dropped two times by Gonzalez in a lower weight class, and I think he sometimes drops his hands too much.”

Leo Santa Cruz (32-0-1, 18 KOs) will try to take advantage of the flaws he perceives in Carl Frampton (21-1, 14 KOs) when the two meet July 30 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). It will be Frampton’s first fight at 126 pounds, while Santa Cruz will be defending his 126-pound crown for a second time.

“My mentality is to go out and get a clear decision or else to knock him out,” Santa Cruz says. “I’ve gotten stronger at this weight, so I think that potentially, I could get him with a right hand or a good punch and could drop him.”

A former titleholder at 118 and 122 pounds, Santa Cruz made his 126-pound debut with a 10-round unanimous decision over Jose Cayetano in May 2015 before winning a vacant title on August 29 with a majority decision over three-division champion Abner Mares.

Santa Cruz followed up the Mares victory with a fifth-round TKO of former 122-pound champion Kiko Martinez on February 27. Earlier that day in London, Frampton won a split decision over England’s Scott Quigg (31-1-2, 23 KOs) to unify 122-pound titles.

Rather than continue to plow through that weight class, Frampton instead chose to move up, and he immediately targeted Santa Cruz as a desired opponent.

While it remains to be seen if Frampton’s power—the 29-year-old stopped five of six opponents before going the distance against Gonzalez and Quigg—will translate at 126, don’t count Santa Cruz among those who question the Irishman's strength.

“I think Frampton will keep his power up the weight classes,” he says. “He couldn’t make 122 pounds anymore, and he’s said that he will be even stronger this time.

“That’s good. That’s what we want. We want him to feel good, so it’ll be a tough and entertaining fight.”

Except for the bout against Gonzalez, Frampton has fought his entire career in the U.K., while the Los Angeles-based Santa Cruz has competed almost exclusively in Mexico or on the West Coast. But even as both fighters will be making their New York debuts, it’s possible that Frampton will be the crowd favorite given the area’s large Irish population, plus the relatively quick trip across the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland to the Big Apple.

Santa Cruz insists he’s not only comfortable with potentially fighting in hostile territory, he welcomes it.

“If they’re rooting for Frampton, that would motivate me,” he says. “I was willing to go to the U.K. to fight him anyway, [and] I realized if I did go over there, I had to be prepared not to leave it to the judges. I had to be ready to go for the knockout, and that’s what I’m prepared to do in this fight.

“I’m going to solve any problems with my own hands and not leave it in the hands of the judges.”

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