In a possible “Fight of the Year” showdown between two undefeated fighters, Carl Frampton edged local Southern Californian Leo Santa Cruz in a firefight to capture the WBA Featherweight World Championship in the main event Saturday in front of 9,062 fans at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“Distance control and hitting hard were the keys," said Frampton. "I won the fight because I didn’t lose control. I earned his respect early in the fight with my distance control and hard punching. I would love to take this man to Belfast for a rematch and show the people there what a great fighter he is.”
The majority decision, scored 114-114 draw, 116-112, and 117-111, was fought at a blistering pace from the outset.
“It’s hard to get your first loss, but now we’ll go back to the gym, we’ll get the rematch and we’ll win," said Santa Cruz. "And that loss will mean nothing. I want to have a rematch in Los Angeles, but I’ll go to Belfast too.”
Santa Cruz’s hallmark has always been his high-octane output and power punching, but the three-division world champion was unable to utilize his reach advantage, and his activity was eliminated by Frampton’s tremendous counterpunching and power shots. While both fighters are top 10 in the world in jabs, a staggering 402 of their 497 combined landed punches were power shots.
While Santa Cruz landed almost equal the amount of power shots – 206 vs. 191 – the 46 percent that Frampton connected on appeared to land cleaner and inflict more damage. And while Santa Cruz was the taller fighter, he lunged forward and fought short on the inside, allowing Frampton to minimize the reach and contest the battle toe-to-toe, where it suited him best.
“It was a tough fight from the beginning,” Santa Cruz said. “We knew it was going to be a tough fight, but I thought it was close when I was in there throwing. Maybe the judges were hearing the crowd and thought that every little punch was scoring."
Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs), the former unified super bantamweight champion who moved up to 126 pounds to challenge Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KOs), became the first native of Northern Ireland to become a two-division world champion.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Frampton. “I had the dream of winning a world title and I won it, but I never thought I’d win in two divisions. It was a tough fight, I wanted it to be a tough fight because I wanted a fight the people could remember. I respect him a lot. He was a true warrior.
In calling out the other champions at 126 pounds – including IBF champion Lee Selby and WBC champion Gary Russell Jr, who were both in attendance – Frampton said, “I want big, memorable fights.”
Santa Cruz, who captured belts at 118, 122 and 126 pounds, disagreed with decision but agreed with Frampton’s wish for a rematch.
“He has a difficult style, but we know his style and will get him in the rematch," said Santa Cruz. "The crowd was cheering, and I think the judges saw that. Maybe, without that, we would have had a draw or maybe a decision."
Selby and Gary Russell Jr. both had their own opinions on the bout as well.
“Look, it isn’t my nature to call anyone out," said Selby. "But I know that these guys are looking to fight me, so I will accept the offer with open hands. In the build up to this fight, Leo Santa Cruz says he’ll fight me too. So, I accept both challenges.”
Russell Jr. first addressed Selby himself before discussing the other fighters in the ring.
“I want to address something that that Lee Selby said," said Russell Jr. "He said that no one knows who Gary Russell is. Well, everyone knows who the WBC featherweight champ is, and it’s Mr. Gary Russell. We are both men and I expect you to conduct yourself as a man. Don’t use this as an out to try to avoid fighting me.”
“Look, I like the IBF belt," continued Russell Jr. "I want to add it to my collection. And as for Leo Santa Cruz, he wants to avenge the loss I gave him in amateurs. So, me and Leo, we can make it happen.”
Mikey Garcia wins in return bout
Undefeated former two-division world champion Mikey Garcia returned to the ring in impressive fashion after a two-and-a-half year absence, flooring former champ Elio Rojas four times en route to a fifth round TKO (2:02).
"The two-and-a-half-year layoff sparked a fire in me and motivated me to do the best that I could,” said Garcia, who landed 50 percent of his power shots. "Elio is a tough guy and a former world champion. He didn't come for a paycheck; he came to win."
Garcia (35-0, 29 KOs) showed no signs of ring rust as he stalked forward from the opening bell. The former 126 and 130-pound titlist and pound-for-pound mainstay floored Rojas (24-3, 14 KOs) midway through the third with a right-left combo, sending the Dominican to the canvas for just the second time in his career. Rojas beat the count, but a monster right sent him falling face-forward less than one minute later for the second knockdown of the round. Again, the durable Rojas continued to come forward as Garcia teed-off.
"Elio took advantage of the opportunity," said Garcia. "But we trained for a great performance like this and I was thrilled to get the job done. It felt great to be here with a supportive crowd behind me. I'm looking forward to getting back in there and winning another world title."
Rojas was tagged again midway through the fifth with a huge right, falling to the canvas for the third time in fight. Now bleeding from his nose, Rojas was knocked down again just seconds later by a brutal right uppercut from Garcia. Again, Rojas beat the count, but looked defeated and referee Eddie Claudio stopped the fight.
"I was able to get off the canvas because I trained so hard,” Rojas said. “Mikey is just stronger. I'm a natural 126-pounder fighting above my weight. It was a great matchup and Mikey is a great fighter. I have no doubt that he is going to take over the division."
Despite the four knockdowns, Rojas disagreed with the stoppage and wanted to continue fighting.
"I was very upset when the fight was stopped," said Rojas. "I wanted to keep going because I have a champion's heart and I never want to quit."
Tony Harrison gets win
On the Santa Cruz-Frampton undercard, nce-beaten 154-pound contender Tony Harrison secured the IBF’s No. 2 position with a ninth round TKO (1:18) of Sergey Rabchenko.
"This is definitely my biggest win ever,” Harrison said. “I was luring him to sleep. My trainer told me that I would have the right hand behind the jab and that's what happened. I'm a finisher. I had him hurt and I said to the ref 'you better not let him go.' I knew I had him beat."
Harrison (24-1, 20 KOs) is now ranked No. 2 behind IBF Junior Middleweight World Champion Jermall Charlo and No. 1 mandatory challenger Julian Williams, who have agreed to fight later this year.
Harrison set up the distance with his jab, controlled the pace and outpunched Rabchenko (27-2, 20 KOs) by a nearly 2-1 margin. He was breaking Rabchenko down with a steady diet of power shots and well-timed jabs when he floored the Belarus native with a sharp right hand one minute into the ninth. Rabchenko got up, but looked defeated and unsteady on his feet, forcing referee Arthur Mercante to halt the contest.
Harrison landed 11 of 40 jabs per round on top of an impressive 46 percent of his power shots.
“A focused Tony Harrison can beat anybody at 154-pounds," said Harrison. "Now it's on Jermall Charlo and Julian Williams. I'm in the catbird seat."
Rabcheko threw an average of only 31 punches per round, connecting just seven per round.
"I didn't throw enough punches,” Rabchenko admitted. “I kept relying on my defense and didn't attack enough. I was looking for one shot and it was difficult to do it against Tony Harrison with one punch. The ref did a great job with the stoppage. My health is first and foremost. The health of any fighter is the most important thing. I knew I couldn't continue."
Malignaggi defeats Bracero
Former two-division world champion and Showtime analyst Paulie Malignaggi won a 10-round unanimous decision over fellow Brooklynite Gabriel Bracero in the “Battle for Brooklyn.” The welterweight bout was scored 96-94 and 98-92 twice.
“The plan was to keep it simple – if he didn't adjust to any traps, then I was going to keep using them," said Malignaggi. "I kept it as simple as I could against a guy who if you complicate things, he will catch you. He's a counter-puncher who can make you pay."
“The Magic Man” stuck to his usual game plan, jabbing at range and utilizing his reach advantage against the naturally smaller Bracero, who was unable to get inside against the master technician.
"I knew Bracero was a counter-puncher like myself," said Malignaggi. "I was just trying to be the sharper counter-puncher. We both try to set traps and I just wanted to make him earn any points that he got. At the same time, I felt like I had to earn my points. I dictated the fight with pot shots and stepping over."
Malinaggi (36-7, 7 KOs) dictated the pace and was the more effective fighter, landing 35 percent of his total punches compared to 29 for Bracero (24-3, 5 KOs). Malignaggi dominated with the jab, landing 11 per round, which is double the welterweight average.
"I didn't want to get desperate," said Malignaggi. "I wanted to force him to get desperate from being behind on the scorecards. I think I did a good job of that. As the fight went on, I just used my movement and feints to stay in control."
Later in the evening, Malignaggi did his best Jesse Ventura impression, leaving the ring and returning to his ringside position as commentator for the Showtime telecast.
"I'm excited to call the fights tonight,” Malignaggi said. “I'm a fan before I'm a fighter. I'm excited to go to work right now.”
Farmer defeats Redkach
Also on the Frampton-Santa Cruz undercard, Philadelphia’s Tevin Farmer won his 15th consecutive fight with an impressive 10-round unanimous decision over previously once-beaten lightweight Ivan Redkach, scored, 99-89, 98-90 twice.
"I'm proud of my performance tonight,” Farmer said. “I was very confident that I would be victorious as long as I executed the game plan and that's what I did. I want a world title. I'm going to go back to 130-pounds and I feel like I'm ready for a title shot. If I have to fight an eliminator I will. I won't back down from any challenge."
Fighting on his 26th birthday, Farmer (22-4-1, 5 KOs) was the more effective fighter from the start. He was able to fight on the inside against the naturally bigger Redkach (19-2-1, 15 KOs), who’s only defeat had come in a 2015 title eliminator against current WBC Lightweight World Champion Dejan Zlaticanin.
Farmer, who’s winning streak dates back to a 2012 loss to current 130-pound titlist Jose Pedraza, landed 42 percent of his power punches compared to just 19 percent for Redkach, who landed just 16 percent of his total punches.
Both fighters were deducted a point, Farmer in the eighth for a low blow and Redkach in the ninth for an intentional head butt.
Adonis Stevenson gets another stoppage victory
Light heavyweight world champion Adonis "Superman" Stevenson (28-1, 23 KOs) delivered a highlight reel knockout victory over Thomas Williams Jr. (20-2, 14 KOs) in the fourth-round of an exciting main event showdown on Premier Boxing Champions on Spike Friday night from Centre Videotron in Quebec City, Canada.
"It was a firefight," said Stevenson. "He put pressure on me so I decided to put pressure on him too. It was a fight with two guys who could punch and it was spectacular. It was my daughter's birthday and I gave her a great gift."
The defending champion Stevenson, fighting in his adopted hometown, put Williams down in Round One with a straight left hand.
Williams was able to recover and began to fire back in Round Two. However, Stevenson's jab consistently sent Williams backtracking, while Williams abandoned the jab and attempted to cut the distance with power punches from difficult angles. Williams staggered the world champion several times, using an effective counter right hand while getting the best of many exchanges.
Both men were hurt in an exciting third round that saw momentum swing in each man's favor before the bell rang to end the round. A cut also was opened up over the left eye of Williams at the end of the round. Williams hit the canvas as a result of a low blow early in the fourth, but regained his footing shortly after.
The powerful Stevenson eventually landed the deciding blow of the night when he caught Williams' chin hanging in the pocket and delivered a straight left hand that put the challenger to the floor. The Washington, DC area-native was unable to recover, prompting referee Michael Griffin to stop the bout 2:54 into the fourth round.
Additional televised action saw rising middleweight contenders Immanuwel Aleem (16-0-1, 9 KOs) and Demond Nicholson(17-1-1, 16 KOs) fight to a majority draw in their eight-round bout.
Neither fighter was able to control of the fight with Nicholson attempting to use his length and jab while Aleem tried to cut the distance and attack with short punches. Nicholson appeared to have the more effective attack in the early rounds, while Aleem began to have more success as the fight shifted to toe-to-toe action in the second half of the fight.
The judges' scores reflected the close nature of the fight as one judge had it 77-74 for Aleem while the other two judges had it a 76-76 draw.
The televised opener saw Eleider "Storm" Alvarez (20-0, 10 KOs) keep his perfect record intact with a unanimous decision victory over New Zealand's Robert Berridge (27-5, 21 KOs) in a 10-round light heavyweight affair.
"I am happy with the win, but I would have liked a knockout." said Alvarez. "He was tough, but he did not hurt me at all and I thought that I hurt him. I am ready for my next challenge, which will hopefully be a world title fight."
The top-rated contender for Stevenson's title, Alvarez established his jab early on while attacking the body of Berridge with right hooks. Alvarez continued to control the fight from a distance as Berridge was slow to begin increasing his output before he started putting the pressure on in round five.
The southpaw Berridge was able to land occasionally on Alvarez with a looping left hand, but never put the undefeated fighter in danger. Alvarez began to have more success varying up his attack with right uppercuts and hooks that eventually left Berridge's right eye swollen and bruised.
Alvarez took home the decision by scores of 99-90 and 98-92 twice.
Contender Antonio Orozco picks up win
Number one rated super lightweight contender by the WBC, Antonio Orozco (25-0, 16 KOs), defeated Abner Lopez (25-6, 19 KOs), of Tijuana, Mexico, in a 10-round super lightweight main event at at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino.
The judges awarded the victory to Orozco with scores of 99-91, 99-91, and 97-93.
"We knew that Lopez was going to be a tough opponent," said Antonio Orozco. "He was a come forward type of fighter and although I was willing to engage with him, I had to box him. That is something that we have been working on, when to be smart, box the fighter and be effective with counter punches."
The fight was an all-out slug fest as the fighters each displayed their dominance in the ring. In the first two rounds, Orozco landed intense power shots that hurt Lopez. Lopez was not deterred as he came after Orozco with renewed energy in the third round, aggressively cornering Orozco against the ropes.
The fourth through sixth rounds kept the same momentum as Orozco began to use the ring more to keep his distance. In the seventh round, Orozco's right eye began to close but he continued to attack Lopez' body with effective counter punches. The final rounds continued with the same intensity from Orozco despite cuts over the right and left eyes.
"I know I won this fight," said Abner Lopez. "But this isn't the first time this has happened to me. I was the better fighter tonight and the fans know it."
Jose Roman picks up win
Lightweight contender Jose Roman (23-1-1, 16 KOs) extended his winning streak to nine, delivering a devastating opening round knockout over Carlos Cardenas (20-11-1, 13 KOs) in the main event Friday from the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, Calif.
By Staff of TheDailySportsHerald.com and news services