Belfast’s Carl Frampton stepped up in weight class on Saturday night at the Barclay’s Centre, Brooklyn, New York to dethrone reigning WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz and, in the process, write his name into the annals of Irish boxing history.
Until last night ‘The Celtic Warrior’ Steve Collins was the only Irishman to have achieved world title success in two different weight divisions but Frampton’s majority decision over the crafty Mexican has propelled him into that very exclusive list of multi-weight world champions. Earlier this year Frampton already unified the super-bantamweight division with a methodical points victory over Scott Quigg in Manchester but it’s last night’s triumph that now propels the young man known as ‘The Jackal’ into the realms of boxing’s A-listers and has increased his earning potential massively.
While Frampton’s defeat of Quigg consolidated the Belfast dynamo’s status as the number one super-bantamweight in the world, it was a fight that he was still expected to win and following the months of hype that preceded it, the general consensus was that it had been an almighty snooze fest.
Hot on the heels of the victory, Frampton was ordered to fight mandatory challenger Guillermo Rigondeaux. The latter could be best described as a Cuban version of Floyd Mayweather, ultra defensive but supremely gifted and arguably the greatest active professional boxer today. News that Frampton would be vacating his new title – the one he wrestled from Quigg – was met by groans and he was accused, like many before him, of avoiding the mercurial Rigondeaux in order to protect the ‘0’ in the losses column of his balance sheet.
However, anyone who had been so quick to cynically imply that Frampton was ducking major challenges in search of softer fights needn’t have worried as the challenge to rise up in weight class and face Leo Santa Cruz was accepted. In doing so, Frampton would be facing off against a three-weight world champion and a taller, rangier fighter that Mexican fans have aspirations of one day lauding in the same vein as they do living legends such as Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez.
This guy was the real deal. The stature in which Santa Cruz is held stateside was emphasised by the fact that he played main support to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio on the undercard of their May 2nd super fight in Las Vegas last year, scoring a highly impressive unanimous decision victory over Jose Cayetano. Santa Cruz was on a fast track to greatness and 5′ 5″ Carl Frampton stopped him dead in his tracks on Saturday night with a gritty and polished performance that will make the whole boxing world on both sides of the Atlantic sit up and take notice.
In this sport, Floyd Mayweather has always spoken of how being able to achieve success in a myriad of weight classes is the true benchmark for greatness, aligned with an ability to draw in big viewing numbers and earn extortionate amounts of money. Frampton already enjoys partisan support in his home city of Belfast and Saturday night’s Brooklyn crowd sounded like it could have been made up entirely of residents from his own neighbourhood of Dolphin’s Barn such was the fervent chanting backing the Irishman throughout the contest.
And the journey now only begins here in many ways for The Jackal. If Mayweather was his promoter, he’d be licking his lips at what lies ahead with plenty of extremely lucrative matches on the horizon. Frampton finds himself in somewhat of a perfect storm now in terms of how the featherweight division is poised. Currently the holder of the WBA world title, he has the option of an immediate rematch with Santa Cruz, who has already stated that he is willing to travel anywhere in order to try an reclaim his crown, so a stadium show in Belfast might not be outside the realms of possibility.
The big fight on everyone’s mind now though will be a showdown with IBF featherweight champion, Wales’ Lee Selby. Both Frampton and Selby hold a version of the world featherweight title and bring with them a legion of loyal supporters wherever they travel so a fight between the pair, which now seems imminent, would guarantee to fill a stadium as well as draw gargantuan pay-per view numbers.
On Saturday night Frampton earned his place among boxing’s VIPs but the good times are just starting to roll for this Belfast boy.
Eóin Kennedy, Pundit Arena
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