Santa Cruz deserved it, I've no excuses: Frampton
Leo Santa Cruz pointed to his body and winced as he sat in his dressing room while next door a dejected Carl Frampton dabbed at a head tattooed with bruises and welts. These two combatants would leave Las Vegas having left something of themselves back in the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The nature of boxing is such that it only allows you to draw so much from your well of resources and fighters are often never quite sure how much has been taken and just when it becomes as dry as the Nevada desert.
Frampton and Santa Cruz have driven each other to the limits over two energy-sapping bouts and now it is expected a third clash will ensue to decide who is the superior fighting machine.
It will take another monumental effort from both men to stand and trade for a further 12 rounds and like so many who have stood at the pinnacle of the sport, they both desire to do it all over again. Two men, one unified respectful character which is mesmerising in its intensity.
Six months ago Frampton shot his two arms up in the air in jubilation to become a two-weight World champion, having previously been the super-bantamweight supremo and now after another 12 rounds he had to hand the WBA featherweight belt back to Santa Cruz.
Judge Burt Clements couldn't separate them at 114-114 but fellow American officials Glen Feldman and Dave Moretti had 115-113 in favour of the Mexican.
Santa had taken his revenge. He had brought a smart tactic of just giving himself enough room to unload his long leads and right hands. Frampton needed his electric footwork more than ever but for some reason they had blown a fuse and so he seemed reduced to planting his feet and just trying to grind his way to the victory.
At the highest level of any sport the fractions matter and Frampton for too many moments of the 12 rounds couldn't figure out the equation of the Mexican's tactics. Normally he adjusts so well to any issue in the ring but a little spark seemed to be missing just when he needed to fire up his engine.
Nevertheless, the 29-year-old Belfast man showed the true grit that has always been his hallmark and in many rounds he would land the heavier blows before Santa Cruz's response of three and four-punch flurries.
At the end when they embraced, opinion was divided on the outcome though a large majority felt Santa Cruz had done enough to reclaim the belt with his relentless workrate.
Frampton agreed, clapping the decision read out by MC Jimmy Lennon jnr and then immediately telling American broadcaster Showtime: "It was a very tough fight. Some of the rounds were close. I really think Leo deserved it. He told me what he was going to do. The brawler was out-boxing the boxer. My fault. I'm sorry. We will have to do it again. We have to do it again."
Frampton is now emphatic about once again becoming the WBA champion and in front of his fans at home in Belfast.
"I want to fight Leo straight away. I won the first, he won the second. I've been on the road for two years now, my fans are having to come and pay a lot of money to support me. I want to thank them first and foremost and I'd like to re-pay them with a fight at home," said Frampton.
"I think the decision was fair in this one and it was fair in the first fight so let's settle the score in fight number three.
"I had a bad first round, it wasn't great for me, not the start I wanted and then I came into it. I got a bit silly at times, he stole the rounds and I was going back to the corner with my head down because Leo had just stolen it and that's experience for you.
"I'm extremely disappointed, I'm a winner - I want to win all the time. I come away for a long time, away from my family. I haven't seen my kids for a long time and I want to win for my kids, I'm so disappointed.
"He did surprise me with his tactics, he told me what he was going to do. He told me he would use his distance, I thought he was bluffing. I thought he would come out and go head first, he's a better boxer on the back foot than I thought.
"Maybe my feet were not what they should have been. I've got a good boxing brain and I was coming forward trying to be the aggressor and I prefer people to come to me. The game plan from Leo's team was good. I can't make excuses because I had an amazing training camp with an unbelievable coach pushing me but the better man won on the night."
So we move on to the next chapter and no doubt another opportunity for both men to further enhance their legacy as two outstanding ring warriors.