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Frampton v Leo Santa Cruz: Carl's underdog status belies his quality

By Steve Bunce

Carl Frampton will enter a ring in New York on Saturday night to fight an unbeaten man called Leo Santa Cruz as a huge underdog, viewed as a sacrifice and hired only because the boxing business in America considers him vulnerable.

As Frampton ducks through the ropes at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, he will be stranded under the lights and a long way from the comfort and adoration of his Belfast public. Inside it will be raucous with thousands of shirtless men singing in the heat under a swaying thicket of upraised arms.

It will be the first sign that Frampton is not a willing player in the role that he has been assigned by the blinkered clan that cover fights in America and the men in suits that put the fights together. The Guinness amnesty in the hundreds of Irish bars in the five boroughs will drip slowly until the fight's final punches reveal a winner. 

Frampton is unbeaten in 22 fights, a former world champion and in his last fight he won his second world title when he beat nemesis Scott Quigg, who was unbeaten at that point, in front of 19,000 in Manchester.

It was a fight the Americans conveniently missed in their rush to judge Frampton for his world title defence 12 months ago in Texas; Frampton was caught cold on a blistering, debilitating day and dropped twice by Alejandro Gonzalez in the opening round before recovering and winning the next eleven rounds. It is hard for boxing's small men to maintain their fragile weight in 110 degrees without drowning in water and Frampton's suffering in the first round should be a deterrent, not an encouragement. 

More: Rory hoping to cheer on Carl to glory

"I have only got this fight because of the Gonzalez fight," Frampton said, the slightest sense of disgust in his voice. "I have been chasing Santa Cruz since 2013, deals were talked about and then he moved up and then there was the Gonzalez fight - they think it is safe now, they have convinced themselves that I will have nothing at the new weight. They are mad."

Santa Cruz is the WBA featherweight champion of the world, unbeaten in 33 fights, including 11 world title fights at three weights during a classy four-year period of domination. Frampton has had to gain four pounds - moving from 8 stone 10 pounds to 9 stone - which he claims will make the difference and not break him. "I have been dead at 122 pounds for a long, long time," admitted Frampton.

The weight change is different to the recent move by Amir Khan and the one planned in September by Kell Brook, both of whom missed a weight at the scales and, some might say, clear thinking for cash dreams.  

Khan and Brook took huge risks for the money, in defining fights against naturally bigger and savage fighters; Frampton has taken a reduction in pay and will be shorter, but not smaller on the night. 

Santa Cruz has also committed the unwritten boxing sin of looking beyond his next fight, talking boldly of gaining as much as 14 more pounds and winning world titles at three extra weights.

He is an American boxing star, one of a dozen scrapping for the riches left hidden somewhere by Floyd Mayweather's departure last September. It is not a pleasant squabble to watch.

Frampton won his first world title on a blustery, tearful and draining night outside at the Titanic project in Belfast; the following morning, his fists ruined, face bloated and his body was stiff but he was able to shuffle the first few steps down the path to New York. On Saturday he arrives and the fans are waiting.

Belfast Telegraph

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