Carl Frampton can't wait to see his name up in Las Vegas lights—just like his heroes before him.
The unbeaten Northern Irishman will defend his 126-pound world title in a rematch with former champion Leo Santa Cruz on January 28 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The fight, which will air on Showtime, is the sequel to their thrilling Fight of the Year candidate in July, when Carl Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs) dethroned Leo Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KOs) in a majority decision at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
In addition to the Frampton-Santa Cruz rematch, the January 28 card will also feature a co-main event with 135-pound world champion Dejan Zlaticanin making his first title defense against Mikey Garcia, who will be attempting to win a championship in his third weight class.
Frampton has been in Las Vegas just once before, when he attended the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Robert Guerrero title fight in May 2013. He watched on television as U.K.-based champions Joe Calzaghe and Ricky Hatton won championships there, and says he’s excited to follow in their footsteps.
“To think that I will be doing something they did takes a lot of getting used to,” Frampton said. “I think the Vegas fight I remember the most was Hatton against Floyd Mayweather Jr. [in December 2007] when the Brits literally took over the [MGM]. There were thousands of Hatton fans out there, and everyone who watched the fight back in the U.K. wanted to be there, too."
Although Frampton had promised his legion of fans that his next fight would be back home in Belfast, “The Jackal” said he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to headline in the fight capital of the world.
“I couldn't turn down a fight like this in Las Vegas, could I? I'd have never forgiven myself if I had,” Frampton said. “The fact is Leo definitely earned a rematch. He was good enough to put his title on the line when we fought in New York, so the only decent thing to do was offer him a chance to win it back. I've done that—and nothing beats a Las Vegas fight night.
“I'm sorry for my supporters back in Northern Ireland, but I'm sure they will understand. It was too enticing to turn down. I absolutely promise my next fight after Leo will be back home, but the chance to fight in Vegas means everything to me.”
Frampton, 29, unified two 122-pound world championships in February with a split decision over Scott Quigg in Manchester, England, but vacated his titles shortly afterward to move up to 126 pounds and challenge Santa Cruz.
Their first meeting was a hotly contested, highly skilled slugfest in which Santa Cruz threw 1,002 punches (and landed 255), according to CompuBox, but Frampton connected at a higher rate (242 of 668 total punches) and landed more power shots (206-191).
With Frampton landing the cleaner blows and successfully countering Santa Cruz throughout the bout, two judges scored it 117-111 and 116-112 in the Irishman’s favor, while the third had it 114-114.
Santa Cruz, who has won world titles in three weight classes, is still smarting over his first pro defeat but vows to regain his championship.
“From the moment our last fight ended, when the decision came and I lost the fight, I knew my only goal was to get my belt back,” Santa Cruz said. “When I sat in the locker room afterward, I felt more motivated than ever to get back in the gym. All I've thought about since the fight was this rematch.
“There won't be any distractions in this camp. I'll be heading into the fight with a better game plan. I'm putting in 100 percent in training, and I'm excited to get in the ring on January 28 to get my belt back.”
“ The name of the game is winning—how it comes about, I don't know. What I do know is I have to train harder than ever before because Leo ... will want to beat the only man to beat him. ” Carl Frampton
Even after beating Santa Cruz, Frampton says he has nothing but respect for the 28-year-old Mexican-American, who became a 126-pound champion with a majority decision over Abner Mares in Los Angeles in August 2015.
“Leo is the best opponent I've ever faced and while I know I won the fight, I also know it was close. I just had a little bit too much for him,” Frampton said. “Leo has said he will be even busier this time, but he threw 1,000 punches when we met, so he can't possibly throw any more than that.
“I don't think he can bring anything new to the table, but he's a great fighter, so he is going to try something to beat me. I just know I am marginally the better man, but at the top level it is the small margins that count.”
Santa Cruz and his Southern California-based fans will only have to make a short trek to Las Vegas to attend the fight, but that doesn't mean Frampton believes his opponent will have a home-field advantage.
"I'll be taking masses of support over there with me—it will be the biggest invasion from our shores since those Hatton fights in Vegas," he said. "I am absolutely determined that my fans will come back with a smile on their faces and hopefully a few pounds in their pockets from the casinos.”
Frampton says he will spend Christmas and New Year’s with his family before traveling to Las Vegas in early January to conclude his training camp. He isn’t willing to make any predictions on the rematch except that it will be another thriller.
“I don't care how I win. I could knock him out in the first round or the 12th, or I could win on points,” Frampton said. “The name of the game is winning—how it comes about, I don't know. What I do know is I have to train harder than ever before because Leo is a proud man and a proud fighter, and he will want to beat the only man to beat him.
"I wanted this fight to showcase my skills in the biggest boxing capital of them all, and now I've got it.”