LEO SANTA CRUZ never had to complete his fight trilogy with Carl Frampton – so he’s hoping Belfast boxer Michael Conlan can join in instead.
It’s been 5 years since the second Mexican-American war with ‘The Jackal’.
That night in Las Vegas, he set Frampton’s undefeated record – after the Tiger’s Bay boxer tore his net last summer in New York.
Looking back on his first failed night, Santa Cruz –—whose father and coach suffered from cancer while on the run – really has fond memories of the Barclays Center event.
And that’s because of the atmosphere provided by the roving Frampton army of fans.
Santa Cruz spoke to the News Ireland podcast this week about both games against Frampton – and his intention to take on Conlan later this year if he succeeds against Leigh Wood in March.
In his first game against Frampton, he said: “It was tough, I remember it was my first defeat. Carl Frampton was a great fighter and a great man.
“He deserves it. He went out there and he did what he had to do. It was a close fight and the better man won.
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“It’s something I’ll never forget because of the Irish fans and the support they gave me, I love that.
“The atmosphere was great and it turned out to be a great experience for me.
“They weren’t just there for him – they were supporting me, too. So it was a really great night.”
One judge gave it a draw but the other two favored Frampton, who threw 334 fewer punches on the night but connected with 242 to Santa Cruz’s 255.
His 36% punch accuracy surprised the WBA featherweight king when Frampton became the second weight division champion of the night.
Santa Cruz said: “Carl Frampton’s tactics surprised me a little bit. I couldn’t really catch him, couldn’t hit him, and he was really skillful.
“He made it more difficult than I thought, what I expected, and I didn’t fight the fight that I had to fight.
“But in the rematch, that’s where we learned from those mistakes – and we improved.”
Of course, it was a difficult time for the Santa Cruz family, as Jose was no longer active.
The boxer, who would become the fourth-place champion, recalls: “My father was going through cancer and he wasn’t in the gym with me 100%.
“He was mostly in the hospital and we went through chemotherapy and things like that.
“I didn’t really focus on that battle or follow the perfect game plan my father always taught me.
“A couple of times I thought he wouldn’t even be in the battle, or even if he would live. But that’s what we’ve been through, and there’s nothing I can do with Carl Frampton.
“He’s a great fighter and a great champion – and he deserves it.
“My dad is doing great now, thank God.
“He was in remission and he went to the gym to train me. Some days it’s good, some days it’s bad, but the good thing is that he’s still with us.”
Frampton’s 2016 campaign – beating Scott Quigg and then Santa Cruz – saw him voted Warrior of the Year by ESPN and Ring Magazine.
He went into the second game with huge confidence but it was his last with the McGuigans in his corner – they split that summer and have since fought in court – and he was out of the game minus his undefeated record.
“Going into the rematch, I wanted to go out there and get revenge,” Santa Cruz said.
“I know I have trained better for this battle. I know it’s going to be a tough fight but if I do all I have to, I can beat him. And that’s what we did.
“At the end of the day, we got the win and our belts were back.
“Nothing personal. I just want revenge and I know I can beat him. I know I’ve got what it takes and I want to prove it.
“It was a great battle, one that I will always remember.
“Great atmosphere, great fans, all the support from Ireland.
“I love the screams, I love their song they will sing and the whole atmosphere they will bring.
“I wish I could have fans screaming for me like that. Such support is something any boxer would love to have.”
BACK TO BASICS
Santa Cruz – with Jose back in the corner – opted for a more cautious approach the second time around.
Once again, one judge gave a draw, the other two pointed to a new champion at the end of the match.
He added: “I’ve always said it – I like to go forward and throw a lot of punches.
“But I know I can’t do that because Carl Frampton will have better shots when we come close because he’s shorter. That won’t work for me.
“My dad told me, ‘you can beat him with a word or two from the outside, use your distance, throw less punches but make them count’ and that’s what we tried. do.
“We throw less, we make them count and use our distance. We keep targeting from the outside and that’s how we’re going to win. “
After the fight, all talk turned to a trio. Frampton, having boxed twice in the US, felt Number 3 had to take place in Ireland.
Santa Cruz seems to suggest that New York is the home ground for Jackal, Vegas is neutral and they will have to go to Los Angeles next.
But Frampton left McGuigans to join MTK, and that never happened. He has fought for world titles on two other occasions but lost both, to Josh Warrington and Jamel Herring, after which he retired last April.
He celebrated his career with a Covid postponed function in Belfast this week.
Santa Cruz won five years in a row after his second Frampton but was badly knocked out by Gervonta Davis last year.
CONLAN ON MY SOUL
He returned on February 5 against Keenan Carbajal and said the match against Conlan excites him – if he beats Wood.
Santa Cruz hasn’t fought in featherweight in nearly three years but strangely the WBA has yet to strip him of his ‘Super’ title, while Conlan will usurp Wood for the ‘World’ title in a few weeks.
During a talk about the failed Frampton trilogy, he said: “I am very disappointed. I’m pushing for the third game and saying it doesn’t matter if I go there to fight in Ireland, I would love to go out there because the fans are really great.
“But the teams, the promoters, they can’t make the fight go.
“I know the people there thought it was me who didn’t want to, but me, I tried for it. It didn’t happen. I will love it.
“If he comes back, I still want to give him a third fight!
“I think Carl Frampton deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He’s a great Irish boxer, one of the best right now, and I think he deserves to be in HOF.
“He did a lot of great things. He beat me and many other great fighters.
“And me, I hope the fans think I deserve it. I will continue to work hard so they can put me in the Hall of Fame. “
https://www.thesun.ie/sport/boxing/8285546/santa-cruz-eyeing-bout-with-conlan-missing-trilogy-frampton/ Santa Cruz eyeing potential showdown with Michael Conlan after missing out on ‘Hall of Famer’ Carl Frampton trilogy