Leo Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KOs) reclaimed the WBA Featherweight Championship, executing a disciplined strategy by utilizing his superior reach and constantly throwing his jab at opponent Carl Frampton (23-1, 14 KOs) in a rematch of their epic first fight in front of 10,085 raucous fans at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday night.
Both fighters now own a majority decision, as the judges scored the fight for Santa Cruz 115-113, 115-113, and 114-114.
“Before the fight, I said I wanted revenge and I wanted to work hard,” said the 28-year-old Santa Cruz. “I went to the gym and I worked hard and I did what I had to do."
Frampton was gracious in defeat, and did not dispute the decision.
“He was very clever and he used his reach," said Frampton. "I think he deserved it. I’m being honest. But it was a very good fight. I think I can perform slightly better. No excuses."
The fight picked up where the champions left off last July in Brooklyn, with tremendous action and back-and-forth exchanges, but it became immediately evident that Santa Cruz had adjusted his gameplan in this bout. The three-division world titlist worked off the jab, fought with patience at distance, and picked his spots perfectly.
Essentially, the brawler, Santa Cruz, out-boxed Frampton, the normally better boxer.
Frampton was more aggressive in the second half of the fight, and attacked on the inside, but his aggression opened him up to effective counter shots from Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz, who has made a living with trademark aggression and high volume output, was clearly more patient in the second fight. He threw 884 punches, well below his division-leading average, including over 400 jabs.
“My head was telling me to go forward and pressure him, but my dad and corner were telling me to box him," said Santa Cruz. "That’s what I had to do. I always fight for the fans, but tonight I fought for myself too.”
Frampton, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, managed to throw nearly 600 punches, but he connected at just 22 percent.
“It was a very tough fight,” said Frampton, who turns 30 next month. “Some of the rounds were close. I really think Leo deserved it. He told me what he was going to do. The brawler was out-boxing the boxer. My fault. I’m sorry. We will have to do it again. We have to do it again."
As was the case in the first fight, the rematch was fought at times at a blistering pace, especially in the second half. Frampton and Santa Cruz combined to throw 193 punches in the final round, 90 of which were thrown by Frampton, the most he threw in any round of the fight.
Leading into the rematch, it became evident that Santa Cruz and Frampton were perhaps forever linked. Santa Cruz had promised to earn back his title and grant Frampton a rematch, while Frampton didn’t shy away from expressing his desire to make their rivalry a trilogy.
“Of course I want the rematch,” Santa Cruz said after the fight. “I’m a man of my word and I said if I won I would give him the trilogy. Carl Frampton is a good fighter. Let’s make a third fight.”
Although a third fight seems to be a no-brainer at this point, there might be some dispute as to the location. Frampton made his preferred site known.
“I hope he’s a man of his word and comes to Belfast,” said Frampton.
Mikey Garcia knocks out Dejan Zlaticanin
Mikey Garcia (36-0, 30 KOs) became a three-division world champion with a vicious third-round knockout of previously undefeated defending WBC Lightweight World Champion Dejan Zlaticanin in the co-main event televised on Showtime.
The definitive victory marked Garcia’s return to boxing’s elite after a two-and-a-half year layoff due to a dispute with his promoter.
Garcia dominated Zlaticanin from the opening bell, keeping him off balance and out of range with his jab, and setting up powerful rights that repeatedly backed up his opponent.
"Mikey is a good fighter without a doubt," Zlaticanin said. "I never was able to get into the fight. I was pressuring and trying to break him down in the early rounds."
The 29-year-old Garcia hurt Zlaticanin with a flush right uppercut in the final minute of the third, followed by a punishing and perfectly timed right that immediately knocked the Montenegrin out cold.
“He kept coming in and I saw the opportunity for the uppercut," said Garcia. "He was hurt. When he turned back to look at me I knew he was hurt and I went for the overhand right. I saw it in his eyes. It was just the perfect time and perfect distance."
In a scary moment, Zlaticanin remained on the canvas for several minutes before returning to his feet as a concerned Garcia paced the ring.
“I’m thankful Dejan, my opponent, is okay now,” Garcia said. “We never wish any bad on anyone in this sport and I’m glad he was able to get up and be OK. I wished him a great career still, and he said thank you. I told him he’s still a champion. Once a champion, always a champion."
It was the first time Zlaticanin (18-1, 11 KOs), the most avoided fighter at 135 pounds, was ever hurt or knocked down.
Garcia now sets his sites on unifying the lightweight division. WBA Lightweight World Champion Jorge Linares and former titlist Anthony Crolla will fight in a highly-anticipated rematch on March 25.
The WBC, the belt Garcia picked up on Saturday, has mandated that the winner of Linares-Crolla II must face the winner of Zlaticanin-Garcia.
By Staff of TheDailySportsHerald.com and news services