Carl Frampton can make history and go down as the greatest Irish fighter ever, says Dave McAuley
Former World champion Dave McAuley expects Carl Frampton to produce a performance to live long in the memory of Northern Ireland sports fans this weekend.
Frampton, who vacated the WBA and IBF World super-bantamweight titles, steps up to face WBA World featherweight king Leo Santa Cruz at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn in the early hours of Sunday morning. Victory would mean Frampton becoming the first Northern Ireland fighter to win world titles at two different weights.
McAuley concurs with the thought that Frampton's showdown with the unbeaten Mexican is one of the biggest sporting occasions in the history of Northern Ireland sport and believes the 29-year-old will rise to the challenge, while admitting that he is baffled by Santa Cruz agreeing to the Belfast man as his latest challenger.
"If Carl Frampton wins on Saturday night then he has to go down as the best Irish fighter of all time," said McAuley.
"He has the chance to make history and I believe he will. We've had some great world champions through the years - John Caldwell, Barry McGuigan, I had my time and then Wayne McCullough came along but Carl is the full package. He's a tough guy, he's got a solid chin, he's a smart boxer and he can really punch. He has the ability to go up a notch and surpass us all.
"He's such a good fighter that I can't understand why Santa Cruz has agreed to fight. If I was Santa Cruz I would sack my manager. He's making a voluntary defence and that usually means you get a guy who you are a big favourite against but he's taking on one of the best fighters around who can really bang."
McAuley continued: "Don't get me wrong, Santa Cruz is a very good fighter but if I was told I was making a voluntary defence against someone so dangerous I'd be saying 'are you wise in the head?' Frampton's the kind of a guy you only want to fight when you have to, when he's the number one challenger.
"For both guys this is going to be their hardest fight yet. It's a step up for both and when I look at the fighters this is a 50-50 fight. Whoever brings their best on the night will win because they can both punch, they're both very good champions. But I think the style of Santa Cruz will suit Frampton - he will love the fact that Santa Cruz will come at him and I just think Frampton can win by a late stoppage."
McAuley's confidence in the Jackal being able to move up a weight and claim another world title is rooted in his belief that Frampton possesses a quality that few fighters have in their armoury.
McAuley, whose great grandfather John McAuley was born in Brooklyn, added: "Frampton has the ability to raise his game to another level when he needs to and very few sportsmen, never mind boxers, have that ability. He can do enough to win every time and that's why I think the best is still to come from him. I think a lot of people have made the mistake of looking at certain performances and then thinking they can get the better of him.
"That's what happened the night he fought Chris Avalos at the Odyssey when he was defending his super-bantamweight world title. Avalos thought he could walk through Frampton and he just got taken apart piece by piece. A world-class fighter was just destroyed inside five rounds.
"I have a feeling that Santa Cruz doesn't quite realise just how hard a puncher Frampton is. I know he was at ringside for Frampton's fight in El Paso last year but they shouldn't be reading too much into that fight.
"Anyone can be put down - the very good fighters get back up and do the business and Frampton did that.
"Saturday night could be one of those really special moments for Northern Ireland sport. I'm really hoping and praying that Carl gets the win and makes history because he's a lovely guy and a credit to the country. It should be an exciting night and Carl will be pushed very hard but I expect him to bring home the belt."