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Frampton-Santa Cruz Prediction: Who Wins, And Why?

Frampton-Santa Cruz Prediction: Who Wins, And Why?
By Gavan Casey
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Between 4am and 5am Irish time, Belfast's undefeated world champion Carl Frampton will once more trade leather with his rival-slash-friend Leo Santa Cruz - the formidable three-weight world champion whom Frampton relieved of his WBA World featherweight belt last July.

The 29-year-old Tigers Bay man (23-0, 14KOs) yesterday became the first Irishman in history to be named Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, adding to similar accolades bestowed upon him by ESPN and THE RING Magazine in recent weeks.

Having achieved pound-for-pound Top 10 status in the latter two publication's mythical rankings following his original battle with Santa Cruz in Brooklyn, Frampton makes his Las Vegas debut at the MGM Grand, with upwards of 5,000 feverish Irish fans bellowing the former unified super-bantamweight champ on in his first defence a weight above.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SL8YeDrAbSY

Somewhat ironically, the amiable Santa Cruz had demanded that the rematch take place in America's southwest, insistent that Frampton's 1,500-strong army at Barclays Centre last year swayed the judges towards The Jackal. The sheer volume of noise produced by the vastly larger contingent of Frampton supporters at last night's weigh-in would suggest this demand was made in vain.

Santa Cruz, however, remains a legitimately world class adversary - a formidable fighter hellbent on revenge. Despite the Irish and British media narrative, he retains every chance of reversing his sole defeat.

With another barn-burning and even contest potentially in store, here are three key areas which might decide tonight's eagerly anticipated rematch, and an overall prediction.

Ring IQ and adaptability

You need look no further than the Compubox stats from Frampton and Santa Cruz's original throwdown to detect which is the more intelligent boxer in the ring.

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The Mexican-Californian former champion threw an absurdly high total of 1,002 shots - almost 350 more than his shorter foe - and still wound up on the wrong end of the judges' scorecards.

Frampton, however, connected with 206 power punches (every shot except a jab) from 463 thrown, to Santa Cruz's 191 from 551. The Belfast man's power-punch percentage was then significantly higher than that of Santa Cruz - 44.5% to 34.7%. Frampton's economical approach relative to that of the tornado-like Santa Cruz speaks to his ring IQ. The decorated former Irish amateur is, in effect, a pugilistic observationist; he picks his moments to make opponents pay, and maximises the purchase on every shot he throws.

He's also arguably the world's most adaptable active fighter not named Andre Ward. Having been downed twice - the first two tastes of canvas in his entire boxing career - against the late Alejandro Gonzales in July of 2015, he coldly calculated a way back into the contest, eventually boxing Gonzales' ears off to remain IBF world super-bantamweight champion.

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The sole rematch on his record, too, saw him make easy work of Kiko Martinez to claim that very world title belt, less than a year after being taken to hell and back by the bull-like Spaniard at European level.

Frampton's an extraordinarily quick learner, and has used those lessons to significant effect in the past. He and Shane McGuigan will have doubtless pinpointed areas within which they can fare better in his second contest with the freight train-like Santa Cruz in Vegas. Most of them will have involved his feet.

Footwork

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Key to Santa Cruz's considerable success in he and Frampton's original classic was his sheer length, and Frampton's occasionally miscalculated approach to exiting their ferocious exchanges.

Santa Cruz's reach is 69 inches to Frampton's 62. In Brooklyn, Frampton would trade with the taller 'El Terremoto' and often step backwards in straight lines. Against 80% of opponents at both super-bantamweight and featherweight, it would have been enough to escape the pocket and remove himself from the line of fire.

Versus the five-foot-seven-and-a-bit Santa Cruz, however, it consistently put him in harm's way; such was his reach, the Mexican landed sweeping left hands on Frampton at will as the Belfast man attempted to step backwards to relative safety. Such is his nature, these left hands were usually followed by right hands over the top - Santa Cruz's best shot - and Frampton would suddenly find himself once more going toe-to-toe with his ferocious opponent.

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As five-time national champion Eric Donovan explains in the above video, this issue can easily be rectified, particularly by a fighter with footwork as effective as Frampton's. Simply put, The Jackal must pivot right or left of Santa Cruz when he lands his best work, and open up a 90-degree angle where he can once more dictate the action as opposed to being forced to respond to Santa Cruz's offensive bursts while on the backfoot.

It's something which Frampton himself has acknowledged in the lead-up to this contest, and will have been obsessively worked on in camp. If he can move laterally with more consistency he will frequently bamboozle the fractionally slower and more plodding Santa Cruz. It's then when the keen-eyed Frampton will almost instinctively detect certain quirks and flaws in Santa Cruz's armoury, and attempt to go to town on any hint of insecurity on his opponent's behalf.

Counter-punching

Such an enormous reach advantage in Santa Cruz's favour can be a double-edged sword, however. Against a fighter as compact as Frampton, and one with such precise timing and accuracy, a lot can happen within the significantly longer arc Santa Cruz's fists must travel to connect with their target.

As succinctly explained by Eric Donovan above, Frampton - despite his blood-and-thunder affair with the Mexican last time out - remains, predominantly, a counter-puncher. Unlike most counter-punchers, however, he's comfortable in the role of instigator, proving as much when he traded leather with Santa Cruz for 12 compelling rounds last summer.

It was his counter-punching which led to most of his success, though. Key to his aforementioned power-punch success rate was Frampton's ability to time his assaults between those of Santa Cruz, i.e. as Santa Cruz attacked with his wider, more flailing swings, Frampton often moved inwards and countered the lanky Mexican as he launched attacks. Guard agape as he looked to do damage himself, Santa Cruz was left vulnerable to Frampton's shorter shots, which he landed at will between his opponent's flurries.

It's difficult to see how Santa Cruz can rectify a rather fundamental problem in his approach; he is, and always has been, more warrior than tactical fighter. Frampton on the other hand possesses the ring savvy, speed and sting to capitalise even more so in Vegas than he did in New York, with cleverer footwork as discussed above key to greater success.

Frampton Santa Cruz Prediction

While it's rather concerning that A) the Irish sports media are seemingly looking beyond Santa Cruz, and B) the bedarned narrative dictates that a rivalry such as that of Frampton and Santa Cruz warrants a third fight (which can realistically only happen if Santa Cruz gains revenge tonight), the overriding sense is that Frampton simply possesses more weapons in his arsenal to get the job done once more.

It might well transpire to be a more tentative affair - in the opening exchanges at least - as both men will have learned from mistakes past and prepared accordingly. On past evidence, however, Frampton will have taken more from their original war than the sensational slugger standing opposite him.

Expect Frampton's timing to be better still than it was July, and expect him to rock the three-time world-conquering Mexican. Don't be shocked when Santa Cruz winds up throwing his gameplan out the window and inviting Frampton into the phonebox. Indeed, don't even be shocked if Frampton accepts his invitation.

But when the dust settles beneath the blinding lights at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, expect a boxing genius in Carl 'The Jackal' Frampton to have his hand raised once more, with just a couple of rounds to spare.

SEE ALSO: Watch: Frampton Vs Santa Cruz Weigh-In Springs Incredible Ricky Hatton-Like Scenes

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