By John J. Raspanti
In the weeks leading up to his rematch with Carl Frampton, Leo Santa Cruz repeated one word over and over.
Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KOs) put his words to action Saturday night, using a consistent jab and volume punching to win a 12-round majority decision over Frampton (23-1, 14 KOs) and reclaim the WBA featherweight title at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, NV.
The scores were 115-113 (twice) for Santa Cruz and 114-114.
Maxboxing also scored the fight 115-113 for the new champion.
Starting the fight the way he would end it, Santa Cruz pumped his jab in Frampton’s face in the opening stanza. The strategy was sound. Frampton, the shorter fighter by a few inches, found himself knocked off balance and unable to counter.
In rounds two and three, Frampton bobbed and weaved. Santa Cruz had an answer for that as well. He carved Frampton with straight shots down the pipe. He worked his left while Frampton searched for answers.
Santa Cruz stuck to his game plan in the next few rounds. He went to the body effectively. Frampton needed to get closer to Santa Cruz, but the former three-time champion was keeping him at bay with his long left.
Frampton did connect with a cagey left hook. Santa Cruz varied his attack to the head and body. Frampton finally got close enough to Santa Cruz to rip a shot to the midsection. He also connected with a left hook to the temple.
Santa Cruz remained focused. His goal was to keep the fight on the outside—where he could use his advantage in reach.
Frampton found him with a three-punch combination in round six. He tried his own jab, but ate two left hooks.
Santa Cruz went back downstairs and landed a number of beautiful left hooks to the gut. Frampton fired back, but it was Santa Cruz who had the edge.
The next few rounds were competitive with back and forth action. Frampton connected with sweeping hooks.
Santa Cruz worked at a measured pace. Frampton attacked while Santa Cruz countered. A solid right to the head knocked Frampton back a step. Frampton cracked to the ribs, but Santa Cruz landed a short uppercut.
Frampton, sensing he was behind on the scorecards, amped up the action in rounds 11 and 12.
Santa Cruz tattooed him with a combination. He jolted Frampton with double jabs.
Frampton winged shots from all angles in the last round. Santa Cruz absorbed the blows and fired back.
With a minute to go in the match, both champions let their hands go, but it was Santa Cruz’s left that continued to find paydirt.
“I went to the gym and worked hard,” said Santa Cruz in the ring. “I did what I had to do. Carl Frampton is a great fighter.”
“A very tough fight,” said the classy Frampton, a loser for the first time his professional career. “I think Leo deserved it.”
Yes, he did.