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Frampton v Leo Santa Cruz: I'd love to join Barry in the Hall of Fame: Frampton

By David Kelly

Las Vegas, a man called Cruz, the WBA featherweight title on the line and Northern Ireland in another crisis.

You could be talking about 1986 but this is 2017 and a moment for Carl Frampton to etch a significant notch in the legacy he will leave behind.

Just a short walk down the Strip from the MGM Grand Garden Arena is Caesar's Palace car park, the scene where Frampton's manager Barry McGuigan wilted in 120 degree heat at the fists of Texan outsider Steve Cruz, losing on points after 15 energy-sapping rounds which saw him end up in hospital with dehydration. McGuigan's reign as WBA featherweight champion was over and he would never be the same force again in the ring.

A further reminder that lives can be turned upside down in this gambling Mecca are the many beggars on the streets. For all the so-called glitz and glamour around the casinos, charity is in short supply and for all the respect shown all week between Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz, when it comes to the opening bell both men know they will be taking each other into an unforgiving tempest.

Both Frampton and McGuigan feel it frivolous to look back to the summer of '86 but rather embrace the winter of 2017 and what it will mean for the 29-year-old WBA World featherweight champion to look back in years to come to a time when the temperature was such that snow skimmed the Spring Mountain range of Nevada.

"Some of the greatest fighters of all time have headlined in Vegas, people like Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson of course - and some very big names from the UK have never had the chance to do it, so this is very special," said Belfast man Frampton, who relished the great support from his fans at yesterday's weigh-in.

"The next couple of years are all about me having big fights, having the chance to leave a legacy and who knows, maybe like Barry I can become a Hall of Fame fighter. That would be a dream come true.

"At this stage I'm just enjoying the ride, I feel really fresh and excited about this fight. The fans here are amazing but also it means a lot to think that back home people will be staying up to watch the fight and I'm sure there'll be a few lock-ins as well.

"I remember myself getting up to watch Naseem Hamed against Wayne McCullough. I watched it in a neighbour's house and I remember the ring entrance from Naz was amazing.

"It's going to be another very tough fight, I know that. Leo's a true warrior and a family man like myself. There's quite a few similarities - we just want a better life for our families, that's why we do this.

"Vegas is a place for a four-day blow-out and I've been out here for four weeks and it's been hard being away from the family and I just want to get the job done and get home to the kids and be normal again."

Sin City is certainly anything but the norm, a surreal world whose soul is the dollar. Frampton has managed to rise above the vacuous existence and focus on the threat of Santa Cruz, who, it is expected, will seek to drive forward flashing out his relentless assaults and it would appear he has a specific target in their rematch.

"I will look to work his body more. I have to be smart when I do it because when you go for the body you can leave yourself open but I will be looking for those opportunities," said Santa Cruz, a likeable former champion whose career could well be on the line having indicated that his Mexican pride would lead him to retire should he lose for a second time to the popular Belfast man.

Brooklyn, New York July 30, 2016 is a time and place that both McGuigan and Frampton will always recall with fondness as this was the moment when the Jackal made history by becoming Northern Ireland's first two-weight World champion with a stunning victory over Santa Cruz. From the outside the battle seemed extreme, nerve-jangling but Frampton's recollection gives an insight to us all as to why he is such a supreme champion.

"Not for one moment did I feel uncomfortable in the first fight. I honestly didn't feel under pressure, I was working in the pocket when I had to and from distance and even when he hit me clean I didn't think twice about letting my punches go and I did notice that his feet were slow," he said.

"I wanted to show the people how good a fighter I was and I hurt Santa Cruz in that first fight and he knows it. From his days as a bantamweight through to featherweight he had been used to overwhelming people with his aggression and he found out he couldn't do that with me.

"When you're a pressure fighter and all your pressure isn't getting the job done, that's not a good place to be."

They will come to that same place this evening on boxing's most glamorous stage. Frampton added: "I want to be explosive, look good and show why I've been brought to this stage."

The chips are down and Frampton's clinical mind was made to cut through the swirling assaults of Santa Cruz. While a points victory seems to be the call from many, I think the Jackal could build his legacy even further with a stoppage around the 10th round.

What the experts say:

Dave McAuley

Former World flyweight champion

I think Carl is going to knock out Santa Cruz this time. Carl is such a hard puncher and he grinds people down with that power. We know what to expect from Santa Cruz, he will come and come at Carl but Carl will have learned a lot from the first fight. He will have looked at the first fight and seen how he can do more damage this time so that’s why I think from the eighth round onwards he gets the stoppage.

Shawn Porter

Former World welterweight champion

I thought Leo won the first one, it was a war. They will box non-stop and it’s hard to pick a winner. Based on the fact that I don’t think either will make big adjustments, I’ll go Santa Cruz. It’s going to be narrow as both are fast with high work-rates. Prior to fighting Santa Cruz the first time, I knew Carl’s name but didn’t know his style. He’s got the skills, speed, power and a nice style. In my opinion, that’s rare from of the UK.

Brian Magee

Former WBA World

super-middleweight champion

This time might be even better. Carl is a good all-round fighter, a good boxer and fantastic mover who can counter punch. Leo has a lot more to improve on. Small, short bursts and more of them are the key for Santa Cruz, who has to improve his accuracy. Carl needs to hit him hard and put him off marching through shots. I can see either Santa Cruz on points or Carl by knockout.

George Groves

Three-time World title challenger

I’ve seen a lot of Carl in the gym and he’s in a great place mentally and physically. I think Carl is capable of knocking Santa Cruz out and I think he will. You can hear the pressure in Santa Cruz’s voice. Carl’s got the unbeaten record to lose and Cruz will try harder but that will only play into Carl's hands. I think Carl will pick the right shots and it will be a cleaner win.

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