Carl Frampton wins brawl with Leo Santa Cruz to claim featherweight title
Leo Santa Cruz threw a whopping 1,002 punches Saturday, and it wasn’t enough to retain his featherweight world title.
Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton, in a display of toughness and courage, overcame the flurry of threatening blows and a seven-inch reach disadvantage to defeat Los Angeles’ Santa Cruz by majority decision at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
“I had a good game plan,” new World Boxing Assn. champion Frampton (23-0) said after leaving his two super-bantamweight belts to accept the Santa Cruz challenge.
“But I won it with my heart, not with my head, and I got my hand raised. I won … because I didn’t lose control.”
That’s what it took in the face of a certain fight-of-the-year contender that featured classic exchanges throughout, and ended in a furious 12th round in which both men fought like the outcome was in jeopardy.
While judge Guido Cavalleri scored it 114-114, Frank Lombardi had it 116-112 and Tom Schreck scored it 117-111 for Frampton.
The difference was Frampton’s 211-191 advantage in power punches connected, and he especially rocked Santa Cruz (32-1-1) in the second round with a left hook on the chin that sent Santa Cruz staggering backward — falling to the ropes to barely remain upright.
Frampton won four of the first five rounds on the Lombardi and Schreck scorecards, saying, “I earned his respect early in the fight with my distance control and hard punching.”
The Irishmen then swept the sixth, eighth and ninth, leaving Santa Cruz to throw relentlessly and press for a knockout that didn’t come. He sought to hammer Frampton’s body, but even a straight shot to the gut in the ninth didn’t slow the new champion.
Santa Cruz, making his first significant road trip, said the roar of Frampton’s fans in the arena may have swayed the scoring.
“Maybe the judges were hearing the crowd and thought that every little [Frampton] punch was scoring … maybe, without that, we would have had a draw or maybe a decision,” the former three-division champion said as Frampton threw 668 punches, according to CompuBox.
By winning, Frampton celebrated with his trainer, Barry McGuigan, who owned the same belt for three fights in 1985-86.
“That’s fight of the year,” promoter Lou DiBella said afterward. “It was sensational. Frampton fought a brilliant fight. He got nailed a few times with some punches. I wasn’t going to be surprised by anything the judges said.
“That was rock-em, sock-em robots. The work rate was unbelievable.”
Santa Cruz probably will be forced to a more distant journey to get the belt back, something Frampton would be pleased to arrange.
“I would love to take this man to Belfast for a rematch and show the people there what a great fighter he is,” Frampton said. “I want big, memorable fights.”
One is already in the bank.
Earlier, Riverside’s Mikey Garcia came back from a two-plus-year ring absence due to a contract dispute and impressively knocked down Elio Rojas four times en route to a fifth-round technical knockout.
While former champion Rojas (24-3) showed guile, he succumbed in the fifth to a combination when cornered, then was stopped by a hard uppercut and follow-up left to the head, failing to convince the referee he could continue.
“I did miss it, but in the time off I regained that fire,” Garcia (35-0, 29 KOs) said. “I feel I’m just as good. I’m more hungry than I’ve ever been before. ...
“There are bigger challenges. I want champion, champion, champion.”
Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire
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