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Carl Frampton praises travelling fans after epic showdown on Las Vegas strip

By Adrian Rutherford

In the smoky casino rooms of Las Vegas, where fortunes are won and lost on the spin of a roulette wheel, hard luck stories abound.

And as they exited into the bright lights of the Strip and the night chill drawing in off the Nevada desert plains, for Carl Frampton's travelling army it was hard to escape the feeling of someone who'd just lost big.

Boxing is an unforgiving business and, despite a courageous effort in another epic duel against his great rival Leo Santa Cruz, this was still a bitter disappointment.

Close to 5,000 were here to cheer on the Jackal, making up half the 10,000-plus crowd inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

One of the world's great sporting theatres, it has played host to epic contests down the years, its rich history including appearances by legends of the ring such as Muhammad Ali, Marvin Hagler and Floyd Mayweather.

Memories of past fights staged here line the walls of Taps Sports Bar, such as a glove from the 1996 De la Hoya-Chavez battle.

Other memorabilia includes a jersey worn by Magic Johnson, star of the 1980s LA Lakers NBA team, and a stick from the LA Kings' Stanley Cup-winning NHL side.

A venue for legends, fans hoped Frampton would write his own name into sporting history with a second win over Santa Cruz.

The pair had clashed memorably in New York last summer, with the Jackal dethroning the previously unbeaten Mexican in an enthralling contest to become WBA featherweight champion.

The rematch in Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world, was always going to be a big draw.

Fans arrived here in their hundreds as fight day neared.

There was expectation, not just hope, as they made their way slowly through immigration after 10-hour flights.

By Saturday the numbers had swelled to thousands, many patriotically clad in green and white.

The Strip, the 4.2-mile stretch of South Las Vegas Boulevard, famed for its hotels, casinos and nightlife, was a natural gathering point.

As the countdown entered its last hours, the fans massed outside Nine Fine Irishmen, an Irish pub in the shadow of the MGM Grand.

Some sported souvenir Frampton in Las Vegas T-shirts, featuring his name set against the famous Welcome sign that greets visitors here. Others wore Northern Ireland football jerseys.

As they joined together in song, for many it was like the Euros revisited with memories of that glorious month in France flooding back.

Some of the locals were introduced to the Will Grigg song, with a street entertainer commissioned to provide the backing music.

Inside the MGM Grand, Team Frampton formed a wall of noise, at times drowning out the boisterous Mexican-American contingent.

They had been stirred by the explosive victory of LA favourite Mikey Garcia in the build-up, ensuring a frenzied atmosphere.

Among the excited crowd were Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, actor James Nesbitt and Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody.

The noise levels shot through the roof of the arena when, shortly after 8pm, both fighters made their way to the ring.

A sea of green greeted the defending champion and his entourage as they emerged to the sound of 'Frampton's on Fire'.

The formalities over, the crowd cheered and applauded wildly as another explosive contest unfolded.

A fast start from the Mexican drew acclaim from the Santa Cruz end, but soon the Frampton section found their voice.

Even when it became clear that the Jackal's crown was hanging by the most slender of threads, the wall of sound from his amazing fans continued to reverberate around the arena.

When it was done the noise hushed as fans waited on the judges' verdict, hoping he had done enough but privately realising the dream was over.

Ever the gentleman, Frampton nodded and applauded his opponent when the scores were announced, before paying tribute to his army of fans in a gracious post-fight interview.

"Leo probably deserved it. It was my fault and I want to apologise to the travelling fans," he told them.

"I hope we can do it again - we need to do it again," he added.

His eloquence in the face of bitter disappointment and a first career defeat met with approval from both sets of fans.

Frampton had fought as a champion and lost like a man.

His fans - and the world - now await the trilogy.

Belfast Telegraph

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