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Frampton v Santa Cruz: Clever Carl won't let Leo shatter American dream

By Steve Bunce

The tiniest of boys have the craziest of dreams in the boxing gyms of Belfast. Carl Frampton was probably about four stone when he shadow boxed and imagined he was hitting somebody under the bright lights in the world's big-fight capital. Tomorrow night he will be fighting for real in his rematch with Leo Santa Cruz at the MGM.

Last July Frampton moved from super-bantamweight, gained a life-changing four pounds and went to New York to fight the then unbeaten Santa Cruz.

"I knew why they picked me," said Frampton. "They picked me because they thought I was dead at the weight. I was a good sacrifice for them."

Frampton was quite brilliant in the ring that night and clearly won on points to become the WBA champion at featherweight. Santa Cruz refused to seek blame and was a delight in defeat; since the loss he has admitted he took Frampton lightly and that his father's illness, which nearly forced him to withdraw, had affected his training.

His dad, Jose, has been with him for every second of the preparations for tomorrow's rematch and was actually ringside in New York to watch, but too ill to help in the corner.

"I don't think Santa Cruz can do anything different," said manager Barry McGuigan, who has been with Frampton from the start. "Santa Cruz throws thousands of punches and he will just try and throw even more; if that happens he will get knocked out."

However, it is doubtful if Jose, who had been diagnosed with bone cancer in his spine last April, will devise a strategy where his son simply does more of the same. Santa Cruz has been winning world title fights at three different weights for five years and Jose, who wears a black Stetson in the corner, has often tinkered with his son's style.

"It's an excuse, the whole dad thing," insisted Frampton.

"Look, I'm pleased his dad is better and will be there with him, but there is nothing they can change. Think about it: Do you think I will just go out and do the same thing?"

Frampton has proven in big fights that he can adapt and this has left some of his opponents bewildered; Santa Cruz and his people will be foolish to expect the same Frampton on fight night.

"There was no pressure the last time," added Frampton. "I was the underdog, he was the champion and now it has been reversed. There is no chance of me thinking it will be easy."

There is a chance that Frampton, like other fighters making their Las Vegas debut, does too much in the days and hours before the bell.

McGuigan insists that Frampton actually needs all the distractions that come with his popularity; Frampton fans are similar to Ricky Hatton fans and all seem to have a personal tale, a shared moment with their little idol.

Frampton has admitted that in the first fight he ignored his corner, which is run by McGuigan's son Shane, at times and he did go his "own way a bit".

He has promised not to repeat the flaw and there is every chance, as the fight develops, that young Shane will once again have to talk his friend through some difficult periods. It will be a far harder fight than last summer's first meeting.

The fight's merry bauble status is, even by the lunatic standards of modern boxing, ridiculous: Frampton will defend his Super WBA featherweight title, not to be confused with the WBA's two other world championship belts at featherweight, and Santa Cruz has been given the WBC's Diamond belt as some type of gift to recognise his brilliance.

The WBC has a terrific featherweight champion and belt holder in Gary Russell Jr and he is waiting for the winner.

The WBC Diamond belt is, by the way, covered in diamonds at a cost of about $50,000. The offering guarantees the WBC a couple of special seats at ringside and a couple of men in silk suits will fly up from Mexico City, where the WBC has its organisational bunker, with the belt in a fur-lined case.

The pair will, trust me, look more like two wayward roly-poly cartel bosses than two self-important fight officials.

Frampton and Santa Cruz are thankfully not in boxing and not at this great venue because of the gifts bestowed on them at the end of fights by slick-handed officials. The pair fight because it makes them rich, they are expert at it and also because since they were tiny boys it is all they have ever wanted to do.

Tomorrow night a different Santa Cruz will demand even more of Frampton in a fight that just might be the second of a trilogy.

A few years ago Manny Steward, one of the sport's greatest thinkers, sat with a few of us in Las Vegas, in a coffee shop at the MGM, and explained his theory on rematches.

"I believe a smart fighter can change things in the second fight," Steward said.

The following day Lennox Lewis knocked out Hasim Rahman to get revenge for a loss earlier in the year.

I have been thinking about Steward's words all week and hoping that he is wrong.

I have also been thinking that Frampton is one of boxing's smartest fighters.

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