By Jason Pribila, ringside
In a short time the Barclays Center in Brooklyn has established itself as the premiere boxing venue on the East Coast. On Saturday night, 9,062 boxing fans provided an electric soundtrack to support a pair of award winning performances by Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz.
The leading man turned out to be Carl Frampton who made history by becoming the first fighter from Northern Ireland to win a title in two divisions. Frampton unified 122-pound bouts earlier this year against Scott Quigg. On this evening he would cross the pond to move up a division to challenge featherweight and fellow undefeated warrior, Leo Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz threw over 1,000 punches over 12 sensational rounds, but his effort may only land him the year’s best supporting role.
Frampton swept the first five rounds on many ringside scorecards. He got a bit too comfortable or brave, and he absorbed a lot of punishment in round six. Santa Cruz followed up with by winning round seven, and suddenly this fight started to resemble the first clash between Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto. In that fight Cotto dominated the first half, but could not regain the momentum once it was lost midway through their welterweight title bout.
Santa Cruz, like Margarito, gained his reputation by being a pressure fighter who used volume punching to eventually beat down and take out opponents. Santa Cruz stayed true to form by throwing 1,002 punches in Frampton’s direction. The difference is that he only landed 25%, and as tough as Santa Cruz is, the punishment he absorbed had to take some steam off his punches.
The most important punches Frampton landed may have been a right-left combination in the middle of round eight. It momentarily stopped the Santa Cruz momentum, and more importantly earned Frampton a “10” in his column on the judges’ cards.
By the beginning of round nine it seemed like even the crowd needed to catch their second wind. In contrast, both fighters were on their feet before the bell rang to start another three minutes of hell.
Santa Cruz may have landed his biggest punch of the night in the eleventh. A clean overhand right that would have dropped most men only momentarily stopped Frampton from coming forward. Santa Cruz would go on to win the round, yet it was Frampton who raised his right hand to his crowd when the bell rang.
That gesture seemed to be reassurance from Frampton that he was now convinced that it was his night. He made it over his final hurdle, and only three minutes remained until he would make history.
That is not to say that the final round was a dud. Over 200 punches were thrown between the fighters, but none of them would prevent their fates from being determined by the three ringside judges.
Judges Guido Cavalleri scored the fight 114-114, but both Tom Schreck (117-111) and Frank Lombardi (116-112), scored in favor of Frampton. My scorecard from ringside also favored Frampton 116-112.
Following the fight Frampton confessed, “It’s a dream come true. I had a dream of winning a world title, but I never thought I’d win in two divisions.”
As with many of the great ring wars, a fighters respect for his opponent grows as the punches that they land on each other continue to accumulate.
“I wanted to be in a fight that people would remember,” said Frampton. “(Santa Cruz) is a true warrior and I respect him a lot. And a helluva lot more after the fight.”
Despite the mutual respect, each fighter welcomed the opportunity to trade leather again in the near future. Frampton expressed interest in hosting the fight in his native Belfast, Santa Cruz offered an alternative.
“He had a difficult style, but we know his style and we’ll get him in the rematch,” said Santa Cruz.
“I want to have a rematch in Los Angeles, but I’ll go to Belfast too.”
If a rematch were to happen, it would not necessarily be immediate. Frampton has many options, but none more lucrative than a unification bout with Lee Selby, who was in attendance.
There is a good chance both fighters will first reunite outside of the ring, as their battle will be on the short list for “Fight of the Year” honors.
Frampton fittingly celebrated his victory with golf pro Rory McElroy after the bout, as he is currently the leader in the clubhouse for “Fighter of the Year”.
Mikey Garcia (35-0, 29 KO) felt that he put enough work in with his brother/trainer Robert Garcia to insure that his ring return after a two-and-a-half year layoff would be seamless. Both had to be pleasantly surprised by just how seamless his five round, four knockdown destruction of Elio Rojas (24-3, 14KO) turned out to be.
When we last saw Garcia he was being groomed by then promoter Top Rank as a potential Manny Pacquiao foe. Despite a ton of exposure on HBO and a climb up the pound for pound rankings, differences between fighter/promoter led to a self-imposed hiatus. On Saturday night, he took his talents across the street and fought under the Showtime banner.
While Garcia’s ring return earned the majority of the pre-fight buzz, Elio Rojas was also returning to the ring after a nearly two year absence of his own. After losing his featherweight belt to Jhonny Gonzalez, Rojas won his last bout in August of 2014.
It was clear from the opening bell that Rojas did not return to the ring for the sole purpose of cashing a check. He jumped out to a 2-0 lead on all three judges’ cards against the notoriously slow-starting Garcia.
In the third round Garcia landed a right hand that sent Rojas to the canvas. Rojas pounded his chest and immediately tried to even the score, but he got caught with a counter right that almost put him down for the count.
While Rojas never stopped trying to win, the only question that remained was not “if” but “when” would Garcia be able to stop him.
That answer became clearer midway through round five when another Garcia sent Rojas to the canvas. Rojas’ heart willed himself to his feet, but his legs and chin would not allow him to stay there for long. Although he would end the bout on his feet, Rojas shook his head when he was asked to continue after rising a fourth time.
CompuBox stats illustrated the damage that Garcia was able to do once he got on track. One needed to look no further than the 50% connect rate on power shots (38 of 76).
Garcia, beginning a new phase of his career as a fresh 28 year old fighter seems eager to make up for lost time.
“(The) two and a half year layoff sparked a fire in me and motivated me to do the best that I could,” Garcia admitted.
“I’m looking forward to getting back in there and winning another world title.”
Rojas feels that it is just a matter of time before Garcia is again wearing gold.
“I was able to get off the canvas because I trained so hard. Mikey is just stronger. Rojas continued, “I have no doubt that he is going to take over the division.
Detroit’s Tony Harrison (24-1, 20 KO) took the last necessary step to secure a title shot by stopping Sergey Rabchenko (27-2, 20 KO) in the ninth round of their IBF eliminator. The win sets Harrison up to face the winner of the upcoming IBF junior middleweight title fight between Jermall Charlo and Julian Williams. Charlo – Williams was being discussed as an October 1date in Reading, PA; but that date will most likely be pushed back.
Harrison possessed a seven and a half inch reach advantage over Rabchenko and used that to control the distance between the fighters from the opening bell. Rabchenko, who is trained by Ricky Hatton, could never get anything going on offense. He simply followed Harrison around the ring content to eat the single jabs he was served. Down by a half dozen on the score cards, I wondered if they had a Plan B. Then I realized that the fight was only halfway over.
Even though he was pitching a shut-out, Harrison was not exactly breaking any CompuBox stats with his offensive output. Finally in the ninth round he landed two big right hands that forced Rabchenko to wobble before eventually falling to his knees. He beat the count, but was deemed unfit to continue.
Harrison seems to have put his knockout loss to Willie Nelson in his rearview, and he is poised to be a live-dog against whomever he faces for IBF gold.
PribNotes: The official attendance was 9,062, but despite what it sounded like in the main event, there were not 8,000 Irish fans in the arena. There were plenty of fans who bought tickets to see the Malignaggi – Bracero turf war. The crowd was also very loud in favor of Mikey Garcia during his bout. Following the Harrison bout I took a walk along the concourse of the arena. I was happy to report that the Irish fans were in fact in the building. They were just circled around the beverage vendors lathering up before the main event. If only late-arriving casino crowds entered the arena with that much passion.
The first article I ever had published at Secondsout.com was a post-fight article based on the aftermath of the Floyd Mayweather – Ricky Hatton fight. I was great to be ringside this evening and seeing Hatton back inside the ring, even though his role has changed.
Prior to the Main Event I heard some fans yelling “Let’s go Champ!” Sure enough, when I turned around Shannon Briggs was marching around ringside. I just can’t figure out who he was here to harass, unless he was just taking his case directly to the suits of Showtime.
During a writers meeting prior to the fights, there were discussions that Miguel Cotto’s fight this fall will take place in Miami, Florida. There is also the unfortunate rumor that Danny Garcia will in fact fight Andre Berto next. Good Pay for little/no risk = Haymon Boxing.
Jason Pribila is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He could be reached for questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on twitter.com @PribsBoxing.
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July 30, 2016