Photo by Esther Lin
Leo Santa Cruz reclaimed the WBA Featherweight Championship, executing a brilliant game plan to dethrone Carl Frampton in a rematch of their epic first fight in the main event of Showtime sports Saturday in front of 10,085 raucous fans at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
With the scores 114-114 draw, and 115-113 twice, both fighters now own a majority decision boxing events and odds are high as both fighters promised to settle the score in a trilogy.
The fight picked up where the champions left off last July in Brooklyn with tremendous action and back and forth exchanges, but it became immediately evident that Santa Cruz had adjusted his game plan. The three-division world titlist worked off the jab, fought with patience at range and picked his spots perfectly. The brawler out-boxed the boxer.
Frampton (23-1, 14 KOs) was more aggressive in the second half of the fight and attacked on the inside, but his aggression opened him up to effective counter shots from Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KOs).
Santa Cruz, who has made a living with trademark aggression and high volume output, was clearly more patient in the second fight. He threw 884 punches, well below his division-leading average, including over 400 jabs. Frampton, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, managed to throw nearly 600 punches, but he connected at just 22 percent.
As was the case in the first fight, the rematch was fought at times at a blistering pace, especially in the second half. Frampton and Santa Cruz combined to throw 193 punches in the final round, 90 of which were thrown by Frampton, the most he threw in any round of the fight.
“Before the fight, I said I wanted revenge and I wanted to work hard,” said the 28-year-old Santa Cruz. “I went to the gym and I worked hard and I did what I had to do.
“My head was telling me to go forward and pressure him, but my dad and corner were telling me to box him. That’s what I had to do. I always fight for the fans, but tonight I fought for myself too.”
Leading into the rematch, it became evident that Santa Cruz and Frampton were perhaps forever linked. Santa Cruz had promised to earn back his title and grant Frampton a rematch, while Frampton didn’t shy away from expressing his desire to make their rivalry a trilogy. VIDEO:
“Of course I want the rematch,” Santa Cruz said after the fight. “I’m a man of my word and I said if I won I would give him the trilogy. Carl Frampton is a good fighter. Let’s make a third fight.”
The two-division titlist Frampton, who was the consensus 2016 Fighter of the Year, told SHOWTIME Sports reporter Jim Gray that Santa Cruz deserved the decision.
“It was a very tough fight,” said Frampton, who turns 30 years old next month. “Some of the rounds were close. I really think Leo deserved it. He told me what he was going to do. The brawler was out-boxing the boxer. My fault. I’m sorry. We will have to do it again. We have to do it again.
“He was very clever and he used his reach. I think he deserved it. I’m being honest. But it was a very good fight. I think I can perform slightly better. No excuses.
“Let’s do it again. I hope he’s a man of his word and comes to Belfast. I hope he does.”
MIKEY GARCIA KNOCKS OUT DEJAN ZLATICANIN
Mikey Garcia became a three-division world champion with a vicious third-round knockout of previously undefeated defending WBC Lightweight World Champion Dejan Zlaticanin in the co-main event of SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING.
The rousing and definitive victory marked Garcia’s return to boxing’s elite. The Oxnard, Calif., native was an undefeated two-division champion when he entered a two-and-a-half year layoff due to promotional issues. He returned last July on SHOWTIME with an impressive performance and made a statement on Saturday by capturing a title in a third weight class in just his second fight in three years.
Garcia (36-0, 30 KOs) kept Zlaticanin off balance and out of range with his jab, setting up powerful rights that repeatedly backed up his opponent. The 29-year-old hurt Zlaticanin with a flush right uppercut in the final minute of the third, followed by a punishing and perfectly timed right that immediately knocked the Montenegrin out cold. Zlaticanin remained on the canvas for several minutes before returning to his feet as a concerned Garcia paced the ring.
It was the first time Zlaticanin (18-1, 11 KOs), the most avoided fighter at 135 pounds, was ever hurt or knocked down.
“I’m thankful Dejan, my opponent, is okay now,” Garcia said. “We never wish any bad on anyone in this sport and I’m glad he was able to get up and be OK. I wished him a great career still, and he said thank you. I told him he’s still a champion. Once a champion, always a champion.
“He kept coming in and I saw the opportunity for the uppercut. He was hurt. When he turned back to look at me I knew he was hurt and I went for the overhand right. I saw it in his eyes. It was just the perfect time and perfect distance.
“I think the layoff allowed me to reignite my fire and my passion and bring back that love for the sport. And in that two-and-a-half year layoff I always had the support of my loyal fans.”
Garcia now sets his sites on unifying the lightweight division. WBA Lightweight World Champion Jorge Linares and former titlist Anthony Crolla will fight in a highly anticipated rematch on March 25 live on SHOWTIME from Manchester, England. The WBC, the belt Garcia picked up on Saturday, has mandated that the winner of Linares vs. Crolla II must face the winner of Zlaticanin vs. Garcia.
“I’m available to unify any titles. If we can get the organizations to come together and unify titles we would love that. Maybe move up to 140 pounds by the end of the year.”
Zlaticanin, who was the first champion in the history of Montenegro, was frustrated with his performance and inability to execute his game plan.
“I was just getting ready to pick it up a little bit and I got between the ropes and then he hit me with a good, hard punch,” Zlaticanin said.
“Mikey is a good fighter without a doubt. I never was able to get into the fight. I was pressuring and trying to break him down in the early rounds.”
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