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Frampton v Santa Cruz: Carl and Leo will not cross the line of respect

By David Kelly

They smiled, embraced and shook hands with the manner of old friends re-united at a marriage reception in the Europa Hotel. Eight weeks from now in Las Vegas, Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz will be wedded together in hostility - the one constant being a healthy respect.

A year ago we were treated to an altogether different spectacle, the bad blood between Frampton and Scott Quigg's camp seemingly spilling out from every aspect of the build-up to their super-bantamweight unification clash. Frampton would put Quigg to the sword and then engage in the 2016 fight of the year when taking the Mexican's WBA World featherweight title in July.

Now they will do it all again and both expect to be stretched to produce their best - even needing another sliver of grit to triumph and they will do it with a savage intensity contained in their fists and not their lips.

"He's a nice guy, respectful to me and anyone like that I'm going to be respectful back. The fight sells itself, there was no hype before the first fight and it was a great fight and this one is going to be the same - if not better," said Frampton, who received a rendition of 'There's only one Carl Frampton' from his legion of fans before he could take the mic and express how much he is relishing this rematch.

Santa Cruz echoed those sentiments as he summed up what January 28 was all about.

"Carl is a great champion and person, I met his kids with mine and we do this for our families," said the challenger.

"When we get up into the ring we give everything for our family's future. We do what we do best and make a great fight for the fans.

"In a fight anything can happen but we'll be well prepared and if we do go down we will have the ability to get up again."

The approach of both fighters to the Noble Art is one that pleases Frampton's manager Barry McGuigan, for whom the outlandish hyperbole ahead of many fights is hard to stomach.

"They're two great role models for the sport. We don't need hostility, you don't need to be rude and obnoxious. This is a tough business and when things go wrong as they can, some of the comments you hear from other fighters then sound very bad," said McGuigan.

"Obviously guys want to win and Leo believes 100 per cent that he can beat Carl, that he should have won the last time, but in his heart of hearts and when he puts his head on the pillow at night he knows he lost that fight."

The legacy of those 12 rounds in Brooklyn will have a lasting impact when the lights go down at the MGM Grand Hotel on January 28, according to the champion who will today jet off to Los Angeles for a further media conference to promote one of the most highly anticipated fights of 2017.

"I hurt him early in the fight and that will still be registering with him... and he didn't hurt me. I could walk through anything he had. I clearly hurt him in the second round and I stiffened his legs a couple of times throughout the fight. I know that and he knows that, it's in his head," said Frampton.

"I believe if I'm smarter I can win more convincingly but also I can hurt him more. I was throwing shots, lots of shots when I could have put more power into single shots and could have hurt him more.

"This fight will be similar to the first one... it could be even better. I gave him his first loss and he'll be looking for revenge. There will be times when I'll have to bite down on the gumshield and give my all to keep the title in Belfast."

Preparation for the first defence of his title started some time ago, whether that is his accommodation in Vegas or the work in the gym with coach Shane McGuigan in London.

"Originally, the fight was going to be on December 17 and it was a bit annoying because it would have been nice to have a Christmas blow-out but you can't turn down fights like this because you want to eat a Christmas pudding," added Frampton.

"It's a short career and I'll have plenty more Christmases to spend with the kids and the family after this... you do what you have to.

"I leave for Vegas on January 2 and it'll probably take me a week to get over the time difference. I'm actually renting the home of former World champion Robert Guerrero, who has a seven-bedroom house with a gym in the garage. We'll also train in Shawn Porter's gym as well in Vegas so everything is good to go and set up."

While Santa Cruz was naturally drawing the spotlight, another significant man in town was Richard Schaefer, the businessman who along with Oscar De La Hoya made Golden Boy Promotions a powerhouse within the sport. Having worked on fights featuring legends such as Floyd Mayweather, Bernard Hopkins and Ricky Hatton, Schaefer admitted he was just as excited about Frampton-Santa Cruz II.

"This is a rematch of the fight of the year, it's going to be a real barnburner and it's headlining on one of the best cards we've ever done," said Schaefer, who now runs Ringstar Sports.

It is clear that Frampton and Santa Cruz are creating a special dish, battles to be remembered for years to come with large television audiences and gate receipts - all topped off with grand dollops of respect.

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