Carl Frampton’s rematch with Leo Santa Cruz was another terrific contest, another fantastic advert for boxing.
I was working with Amir Khan and he had Santa Cruz winning it by two rounds – I had it by four. Santa Cruz was in control for most of the fight.
That is unlike their first WBA featherweight title fight last July that Frampton won on points – the Northern Irishman was pretty much in charge for most of that one.
Santa Cruz boxed here like a man who had lost the first fight – a man motivated for revenge.
Santa Cruz had so much to prove and the key question in the build-up was whether he would do anything differently to how he performed in Brooklyn.
Frampton and his team – father-and-son trainer and manager Shane and Barry McGuigan – seemed convinced Santa Cruz couldn’t box on the back foot, but he seemed very adept almost from the first bell, waiting confidently for Frampton to come at him and picking him off on the way in.
He had shown patches of the ability to box on the back foot in the past, in a huge Hispanic showdown with Abner Mares, but nothing like he produced against Frampton.
Santa Cruz showed real champion quality in overcoming adversity. The initial fight brought about his first defeat, and he bounced back like great champions do.
The two men treated each other with such deep respect all week.
Santa Cruz had his family in tow, and it was the kind of occasion at which they didn’t seem out of place. That is unlike so many boxing events, when the tirades and insults are flowing.
Can Frampton bounce back from first defeat?
This was the most disappointing night of Frampton’s career, but it is a setback he can come back from.
He does have the kind of mentality that will help him bounce back. If not straightaway, then certainly to build a really successful career from here.
In every top sports star’s catalogue is a setback they’ve come back from, where they’ve overcome adversity. Santa Cruz has done it, and now it’s Frampton’s turn.
He has that quality, and if he is the champion he believes he is, and those around him believe he is, he will have to come back.
He doesn’t become a bad fighter overnight and he’s run a three-weight world champion very close again with a performance that wasn’t his best.
I think he can do it, but I also think whenever Frampton and Santa Cruz meet in the ring it will be very, very close.
Time for the decider?
The big question is will the next contest for both men be the trilogy fight – because it might be very difficult for Frampton to motivate himself for anything else.
There are lots of options out there for him – Lee Selby is still a possibility, even though he didn’t fight this weekend – but the one they all want is the trilogy fight because it’s one apiece.
There was just a line from Santa Cruz at the final news conference that worried me. He said there are other options.
As soon as you hear that from a boxer, a manager or promoter you get the sense negotiations are under way and they are throwing those options into the mix and playing hardball.
The lure of Las Vegas
The fans make Vegas an attractive option for promoters and casinos. There has been great business this week, not just from the Irish fans but the Hispanic and Mexican fans as well.
The noise as the two men came to the ring was pretty even-handed – if you are talking about a contest between the fans then that was very close as well. At times the Irish held sway, but at times the Mexicans were in full voice.
It’s always a guide to a fight when the noisiest of noisy fans are kept quiet – you know then their man is not doing so well. And the Irish were quiet for sustained periods.
But they have made themselves heard and known here, and it has become a really attractive part of the whole Frampton package, just as it was exactly 10 years ago with Ricky Hatton when he began his Las Vegas odyssey.
Hatton first fought here in January 2007, and he didn’t ignite straightaway. There weren’t 20,000 people following him here immediately, but he gradually built over time.
I get the sense they think, if not on the same scale as Hatton, they have got another one of these madly popular characters and they love it over here. It’s different. It brings a whole different dynamic to fight week in Vegas.
They will find that very attractive, so there are long, hard negotiations to take place before this third fight happens.
Back to Belfast?
I’m hearing there are all sorts of logistical problems with Belfast in the middle of summer because of football demands on the stadiums.
Frampton is quite marked up after this one, and these men have fought two very hard fights in six months – would they want to go again as early as June, which is what has been mentioned?
They are more likely to wait until later in the year, which then means can they go outdoors because of the weather. It’s difficult.
There is so much money in Las Vegas put up by the casinos, and promoters like it over here. Santa Cruz has a huge fanbase here, so it’s going to be very difficult for Barry McGuigan and others involved in the negotiations.
Frampton is adamant his next fight will be in Belfast. He’s fought three times in the States now – in Texas, New York and Vegas. He said his fans have loyally supported him, spending all their money, so he wants to pay them back by fighting next in Belfast.
He might get his wish, but it might not be Santa Cruz in the opposite corner.
Family time for Frampton
Frampton has been saying all week he can’t wait to get back and spend time with his family.
We met him at the beginning of fight week and spent 20 minutes or so speaking to him in his suite – he couldn’t have been more relaxed, he couldn’t have been more approachable, he couldn’t have been more helpful to just about everybody here.
That takes a lot out of a fighter. It did out of Hatton, I know. There are a lot of media commitments. That’s one of the prices you pay for being so good, so popular and fighting on a stage such as this. He’ll be exhausted mentally and physically.
The first defeat always hurts, especially on a stage as big as this. He will look at ways he could have closed down that space better – he always talks about his greatest asset being the control of distance between him and his opponent, and he lost that on Saturday.
That’s what he has got to analyse. Was there something in the build-up he did differently? Was he here too long? In the past he has come over to the United States too late, but he’s been here for a month. Has he been missing the family too much?
There is a lot of optimism out there for Frampton, but it will take a while for him to see that.
He is a proud fighting man and that first setback of his career will be very difficult to take given he really fancied himself not only to win, but to win well.