‘Hopefully he’s a man of his word’
Frampton hopes to bring 'decider' to Ireland to gain revenge and complete trilogy
There was no Las Vegas coronation for defending WBA featherweight champion Carl Frampton, as he suffered a first career defeat in his rematch against Leo Santa Cruz at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Even though the contest, before an attendance of just over 10,000 fans, was different in nature to their original showdown in New York last July, it was every bit as intriguing and as closely fought as the first battle, which was a nominee for 'Ring' magazine's Fight of the Year.
Once again it was a majority verdict, with one of the judges, Burt Clements, scoring it a 114 draw, while Dave Moretti and Glenn Feldman gave the verdict to the Mexican-American 115-113.
Interestingly, they both gave the identical seven rounds to Santa Cruz, with Frampton getting the nod in rounds two, three, nine, 10 and 11.
Scarcely had the victor time to admire his recaptured belt than speculation turned to the possibility of a third clash between two of the best nine-stone fighters in professional boxing. There was an understanding between the two camps - believed to be verbal rather than written - that Santa Cruz would travel to Belfast in the event of a trilogy and the winner did promise to fulfil his side of the deal afterwards.
"I am a man of my word and if they come to an agreement I will be happy to make the third fight, but there are other options out there. A true champion will go anywhere, because it will only be me and Carl Frampton in the ring," said Santa Cruz.
"I know the crowd would be up for him and it would be very hard for me if we meet, but I am willing to go there."
However, Santa Cruz's comment about exploring other options concerned Frampton's manager and mentor Barry McGuigan.
"They have to be honourable, but I don't like the fact that he said there are other great fights out there. It would be ideal to have a third fight, but if it doesn't happen there are loads of options out there for us," said McGuigan.
"Frampton lost the decision, but he was incredible. He was courageous, but he was just a little sluggish and he wasn't as sharp as normal and that made the difference."
A gracious Frampton joked afterwards that he would offer Santa Cruz accommodation in his own home if he came to Belfast for a third fight. Though he was bitterly disappointed to surrender his title and lose his unbeaten run, he had no complaints.
"Leo and I have had 24 rounds of each other now and they all have been pretty competitive rounds. It's one-all now and if I can look for anything positive out of this we have to make it a trilogy," said Frampton.
"It has to happen again. Leo is a tremendous fighter, he surprised me today with his tactics. I honestly didn't think he could box like he did, he was on the back foot a lot. If I'm being honest, hand on heart, Leo deserved to win.
"I came back in a couple of rounds. They were close and I thought I was doing pretty well, but Leo used his experience and stole them in the end with bursts in the last 15 seconds and I believe he deserved to have his hand raised.
"So congratulations to the new champion, but hopefully we can do it again. I've came to the States twice now and Leo has said he will do it a third time in Belfast and hopefully he is a man of his word.
"If he wants I would be happy to go to LA for a fourth fight. Who knows, there could be four or five fights between us. But let the fans have they want."
Frampton - whose share of the purse was reported to be $1 million - was adamant that his next fight will be in Belfast, regardless of the opponent. After four successive contests on the road he feels he owns his fans a home clash, though it remains to be seen whether Windsor Park will witness Frampton v Santa Cruz III next summer.
McGuigan refused to draw any comparison between his infamous loss in Las Vegas of the same belt to Steve Cruz in 1986 and Frampton's defeat, but he revealed that his prodigy acknowledged he was slightly below his best.
"He knows he didn't box very well, he let it slip away from him. I was worried halfway through that it was beginning to slip away from us. You have to be honest about these things. Everybody loses; it's how you come back that matters.
"We want him to fight him again, we want him to fight in Belfast. He said he would come to Belfast, he said he was an honourable man.
"We are all so disappointed because it was another phenomenal fight. Frampton is an honest man, he is a fantastic kid and he didn't make any excuses. We had a brilliant camp, but he was just sluggish to begin with and we were chasing.
"He suddenly had to become an attacking fighter and that's not his best game, though he is getting better at it.
"Santa Cruz is an exceptional talent. Even though it is a cliché, they are great dance partners. You do need an opponent to bring the best out of you and they do seem to bring the best out of each other."
The Frampton camp was unnerved by Santa Cruz's change of tactics. For the first time in his distinguished career he refused to be drawn into a brawl. Instead he used his height and reach advantage to punish Frampton with his jab and the defending title holder just couldn't find his rhythm.
He told everybody in advance that he was going to fight smarter than he did in New York last year, but nobody, including everybody in the Frampton camp, actually believed him.
It wasn't a bluff and 'El Terremoto' is back as the WBA champion. Still, this particular rivalry still has some distance to run.