Carl Frampton's dream third clash with Santa Cruz nears reality
World featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz says he is ready to complete his trilogy with big rival Carl Frampton before the end of the year.
Santa Cruz retained the WBA title he won from Frampton in Las Vegas in January, 2017 on Saturday night with a points victory over Rafael Rivera in Los Angeles and the Jackal's name was on his lips when weighing up his plans for the rest of 2019.
Frampton's career suffered a significant blow when losing his shot at IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington in December but he remains a box office attraction and his two fights with Santa Cruz - he won the first in New York - made for compelling viewing.
The Belfast man has made it clear that he will return to the ring for a major fight later this year.
With IBF champion Warrington defending against Kid Galahad in May and WBO featherweight champion Oscar Valdez putting his belt on the line next month, a summer fight between Santa Cruz and Frampton is a real possibility.
Mexican Santa Cruz, who unanimously outpointed fellow countryman Rivera having landed 334 of the 1,273 punches he threw, said: "I want to fight the best. I want to fight any of the champions at featherweight or have a third fight with Carl Frampton. I want to be back this summer and fight three times this year against the best in the division."
Commenting on his victory over ‘Big Bang’ Rivera, Santa Cruz — whose father and trainer Jose was again in his corner as he continues his battle against spinal cancer — added: “I could’ve done better, but as long as the fans liked it and go home happy, I’m happy. Next fight, I’ll be better.”
Frampton has always made it clear that he is eager to have the decider and a third fight remains one of the most exciting clashes in the nine-stone division.
“It’s encouraging to me that my name is still on the lips of the top guys when they’re thinking about big fights,” said Frampton.
“It just emphasises again the importance of my fan base and also that I’m usually in exciting fights so the promoters and the TV guys know what they’re going to get.”
Former champion Frampton also made it clear that he would be prepared to travel to America for the third fight, if Santa Cruz would not — as he has previously stated — come to Belfast for their final encounter.
Meanwhile, east Belfast man Luke Wilton has been handed a shot at the vacant Commonwealth super-flyweight title on Friday, March 15 in Sheffield.
Wilton, a former British title challenger, will face Sheffield’s Tommy Frank as a replacement for Ross Murray.
Commonwealth Games bronze medallist James McGivern made it through to the 63kg final of the Irish Elite championships on Saturday night. McGivern, who defeated Wayne Kelly in the quarter-finals, gave another fine display as he comprehensively outpointed Kenneth Doyle of Dublin’s Monkstown club.
But there was bitter disappointment for welterweight Aidan Walsh, light-heavyweight Paul McCullagh and middleweights Brett McGinty and Fearghus Quinn, who all lost their semi-finals.