For those of us like to stay up – or more likely at our vintage, go to bed at our normal time and then hope to wake up in the early hours and then rise again – to watch some of the USA’s biggest boxing fight bills on television, Saturday night’s return bout between Belfast’s hero Carl Frampton and Mexico’s Léo Santa Cruz for the WBA world featherweight title was a welcome opportunity.
Last year’s clash between the two was shortlisted as one of the fights of 2016 and there was plenty of anticipation surrounding the unbeaten Frampton’s first defence of his newest world title.
Added to which – against a background in which these days I very rarely consider paying for any ‘pay per view’ fight on principle, especially when Radio Five Live often provides live coverage commentated by the excellent Mike Costello anyway – I had noticed after my evening meal on Saturday night that Sky Sports was offering free live coverage of the bill from the MGM hotel in Las Vegas from 0100 hours.
Accordingly I retired to bed at 9.00pm and rose again about 1.30am. Having ‘things to do on the computer’ in the meantime – and hearing Dotun Adebayo tell his Radio Five listeners that Frampton wouldn’t be making his walk to the ring until about 3.45am – out of preference I stayed tuned to Radio Five Live until about 3.00am before then firing up the television and (joy of joys!) finding that for once the TV listings had been accurate: Sky Sports was midway through its four and a half hour coverage of the Las Vegas bill!
Those Rust readers who follow boxing, or sports, or who are just newshounds generally, will already know the outcome of the Frampton/Santa Cruz clash – the former duly lost his unbeaten record and the latter regained his world lightweight title after another twelve compelling rounds of action. The blunt truth is that it was slightly disappointing, but only because their previous bout had been stunningly good (toe to toe all the way); because it soon became apparent that Santa Cruz and his handlers had gone away, analysed the tapes, rejigged their tactics, worked damned hard in the gym and come back to the ring as well primed to ‘up their game’ as they could possibly be (whereas, by implication, Frampton’s preparations had amounted to little more than ‘more of the same’); and because Santa Cruz’s physical advantages (2 inches in height and 7 in reach) had a greater effect this time than last.
My impression – echoing that given to Sky viewers by their commentator and Carl Froch as ringside pundit – was that Santa Cruz had definitely been superior on the night and deserved the victory. Even so, one judge had it as a drawn whilst the other two had it 115-113 to Santa Cruz.
What was heartening from the fight game’s point of view was the obvious respect between the two combatants. Frampton applauded the result’s announcement the moment he heard it and the two fighters embraced like old mates afterwards – Frampton even took the microphone to apologise personally to all his fans for losing.
Apparently Barry McGuigan (in the Frampton camp) called for a third fight between the two to take place, possibly next time in Belfast. One thing is for sure – if they do at some point meet again for a series decider – I’ll make a point of watching it.
Separately, a word about an earlier fight on the bill that I caught purely by accident, viz. that for the WBC world featherweight title between two unbeaten fighters: defending champion Dejan Zlaticanin of Montenegro and American-Mexican Mikey Garcia, the former WBO world featherweight and junior lightweight champion.
I must begin by admitting that I’d never heard of either fighter before, which gives the lie to the notion that – despite my role the Rust’s boxing correspondent – I am anything like up to date with the sport’s latest developments.
Of the two, it soon became apparent that Garcia (29) was the more glamourous character, not least because after a dispute with his manager and the top boxing promoters over financial terms, in 2014 he opted to take a two and a half year hiatus from the ring from which he returned only last summer.
This was the second bout of his comeback and a step-back in weights to featherweight.
Having switched on the television because the Frampton/Santa Cruz fight was imminent, by chance I caught the Garcia and Zlaticanin walks to the ring and the commentator’s build-up … and, out of interest thereby generated … decided to watch.
It was immediately apparent that Mike Garcia is a world class act. He looked and moved like a really special ring technician. In this respect I compare everyone to my impression of Muhammad Ali and Garcia was right up there. He looked completely calm and effortlessly in control of his surroundings once he first stepped away from his corner. He seemed to have an in-built quarter of a second’s superiority in time to address everything that unfolded.
To each development he also seemed to have innumerable options as to how to respond.
Zlaticanin advanced and swung a punch – and he could choose to evade it by footwork, or a sway, or by parrying it with either glove (with or without also taking the opportunity to counter-attack).
If Garcia was ring-rusty after only one fight in nearly three years it certainly didn’t show. He eased into Saturday night’s (or for the UK Sunday morning’s) bout with consummate self-assurance.
Meanwhile I was watching Zlaticanin especially closely. He may have been unbeaten in 22 fights – never previously in trouble, let alone floored – but he looked a limited fighter despite his reputation for toughness and punch power.
Let me summarise the action this way. Garcia was looking like a million (well okay, several million) dollars and Zlaticanin was struggling to find a way into the fight, eating plenty of leather along the way, until this happened out of the blue in Round 3 – ZLATICANIN KNOCKOUT
For the record, I should add that Garcia’s pro record now stands at 36 fight, 36 wins and 30 of them by knockout.