'Jackal' thrives on pressure, insists manager McGuigan head of Vegas showdown
Carl Frampton will be the coolest customer in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the early hours of tomorrow morning when a gentleman from the Nevada Athletic Commission steps inside his dressing room and announces 'It is time gentlemen. . .'
"He has ice in his blood," says mentor and manager Barry McGuigan. "He loves pressure - the more pressurised he is, the better he is and it's magnificent to watch him. He is great kid, a super talent. He could be the best Irish fighter there has ever been.
"He needs to win this fight and win it impressively, and I believe he will. It is going to be a really tough fight, and Leo Santa Cruz will test him in every department. But that's going to make it better for the crowd because the fight is going to be sensational."
McGuigan's son Shane, who supervised Frampton's 14-week long training camp, reckons his father will probably be the most nervous of the trio come fight time.
"Carl will be very calm; if anything I will probably get more nervous and Dad definitely will," he said.
Frampton knocked out two sparring partners in training, testimony to the fact that he's more comfortable in the 126lb featherweight division than at super-bantamweight. He looks to be in the form of his life.
For professional boxers the MGM is Mecca, and the 29-year-old from Belfast's Tiger Bay understands the significance of the being the first Irish boxer to top the bill at the venue on a card which includes two other World title contests.
"I'm in the fight capital of the world and boxing in the arena where big fights happen," said Frampton, whose wife Christine, along with an estimated 4,000 fans from Ireland and the UK, will be in the arena lending their support.
"It is a huge deal for me; another box ticked. There are not too many guys from my weight divisions to get an opportunity to top the bill in the MGM. I'm in a lucky position."
Welshman Lee Selby defends his IBF World featherweight title on the same card, and if he and Frampton win there is a strong likelihood of the pair clashing in a unification bout in Belfast's Windsor Park next summer.
The Frampton-McGuigan party moved into the MGM hotel just over a week ago and have since been upgraded to executive suites.
"I have my own personal butler, called Eric, Can you believe it? It is stunning; we don't need to do anything. But it all can go in a split second and we can never lose sight of that," cautioned McGuigan Snr, who in Las Vegas in 1987 surrendered the WBA belt that Frampton defends.
"We have a job to do and we are here to win. At the end of the day it's just another boxing match. I try to add my wisdom and experience to keep everybody calm".
With the Sheep Range mountain on the north-west fringes of the city currently snow capped, conditions could hardly be more different than they were for McGuigan's fateful title defence against Steve Cruz more than 30 years ago.
"It was very difficult for a white Irishman fighting outside in 120 degrees against a Tex-Mexican who lived in Houston," he explained. I was at a disadvantage from the beginning but that's another story."
McGuigan has been back to Vegas several times since then, doing TV co-commentary work but on this occasion he has skin in the game.
Even though two of the judges scored the first fight between Frampton and Santa Cruz decisively in the Irishman's favour (117-111; 116-112), the fact that the other judge called it a 114-114 draw underlines just how tight it actually was.
According to Richard Schaefer, the ex-CEO of Golden Boy Promotions and the founder of Ringstar Sport, the lead promoter on this occasion, a mere 13 punches decided the outcome. Furthermore, in ten of the 12 rounds less than six punches separated the boxers and 80pc of the punches landed were power punches.
Santa Cruz's father and mentor Jose missed part of the build-up to the first fight as he was receiving treatment for cancer. The cancer is now in remission and he's back playing a central role in his son's bid to recapture the belt.
Frampton acknowledges that he doesn't know how he would have dealt with such a situation.
"Leo is obviously a very strong-minded person to be able to step into the ring and fight when that was going on," said Frampton who pointedly declined to agree that Santa Cruz was offering this as an excuse for his first ever defeat.
This underlines the level of mutual respect between the two fighters, both of whom emphasised that they were involved in professional boxing to give their children a better life than they had.
Even though Santa Cruz hinted that he would make better use of his seven-inch reach advantage and box smarter than he did in the first fight, the Frampton camp do not believe he is capable of changing his style.
However, Shane McGuigan expects him to begin the fight as he ended the first one.
"He knows he can only win this fight one way and that's by putting pressure on Carl," he said. "He was trying to tell us that he was going to box and do something different but he is just trying to lead us into a false sense of security.
"We know his game. If he stands off Carl, that would be one of the silliest things he could do.
McGuigan will probably urge the champion to use his ability as an intelligent counter-puncher to consistently score against Santa Cruz as he comes forward.
"I am going to do whatever it takes to win the fight,'' predicted Frampton.
"I think that if I'm clever I can win it more convincingly (than the first one). But at times I am going to have to bite down on the gum shield and just fire back.
"He is talking about using his reach and although he was got a greater reach than me I don't think he is going to use it because I have never seen him using it before.
He always fights close in the pocket. I believe I can adapt and do enough to get the win."
Frampton was presented with the prestigious Ring Magazine 2016 Fighter of the Year award after yesterday's final news conference.
Nothing is ever certain in boxing but the indications are that by the time Frampton celebrates his 30th birthday on February 21 he will still be the WBA featherweight champion of the world.
Frampton v Santa Cruz, Live, tonight, Sky Spts 1, from 2.0am