CARL FRAMPTON NAMED FIGHTER OF THE YEAR — Back in the bad old days when the Chicago Cubs were still dreadful and the great Ernie Banks was unremittingly cheerful, “Mr. Cub” would smile and say, “Let’s play two!”
Quickly arranged rematches, boxing’s version of the doubleheader, are becoming as rare as completely undisputed champions on a landscape rife with alphabet titlists reigning over only pieces of the kingdom. So perhaps a nod of appreciation should be given to Northern Ireland’s Carl “The Jackal” Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs), who dethroned the favored Leo Santa Cruz on a rousing majority decision to win Santa Cruz’s WBA featherweight belt on July 30 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
That victory – over a fighter who came in with a 32-0-1 record with 18 knockouts – capped a year to remember for Frampton, whose only other ring appearance in 2016 saw the then-IBF super bantamweight titlist score a similarly scintillating split decision over WBA 122-pound ruler Scott Quigg in Manchester, England.
Those victories, over top-tier champions with a combined record of 63-0-3 and 42 KOs at the time he fought them, were sufficiently impressive to make the 29-year-old Frampton the top choice for Fighter of the Year honors from The Sweet Science, outpolling the formidable likes of Terence Crawford and Vasyl Lomachenko in balloting among TSS staff and contributors.
Frampton will attempt to get an early jump on being named Fighter of the Year in back-to-back years when he squares off against Santa Cruz on Jan. 28 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It is a source of some irritation to him that there are some who question whether his first victory over Santa Cruz was a fluke, or in any way controversial.
“I thought I won the first fight,” he said. “I don’t think it was controversial at all. I think I won by three or four rounds. They were definitely close, competitive rounds, but I think I was doing more to win rounds and get the nod.”
The official scoring would seem to bear that out. Although judge Guido Cavalleri saw it as a 114-114 standoff, colleagues Tom Schreck and Frank Lombardi favored Frampton by respective margins of 117-111 and 116-112.
And Frampton’s thoughts on the do-over?
“When I fight people, I feel like I improve the second time,” he said with the confidence of someone who is taking an open-book test and already knows the subject matter well. “I have a good boxing brain and I can adapt to different situations. The only person I’ve fought twice was Kiko Martinez, and the second time I fought him I won comfortably because I learned from the first fight. I know everything about Leo. He fights the same way every single time.”
But regardless of what happens on Jan. 28 in Vegas, nothing can detract from what Frampton did in 2016, a year in which he elevated his standing from that of one of many alphabet champions to a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter, and maybe one destined to climb ever higher in those lofty ranks.
At 5-foot-5 and with a reach of just 62 inches, Frampton ceded several physical advantages to the 5-7½ Santa Cruz, who has a reach of 69 inches, but the Belfast native seemingly had no trouble getting inside and scoring with stinging punches, thoroughly disrupting the taller man’s rhythm in the process.
“I have serious punching power,” Frampton said of the approaching rematch, “and that again could prove the difference.”
Check out more on Carl Frampton, the 2016 “Fighter of the Year” at The Boxing Channel.