The 13th Round: Fantastic Frampton etches name into Boxing History

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Every truly great fight has a magic moment, an out-of-body experience, a couple of seconds of realisation that you are watching a new thread being added to the tapestry of boxing history.

For Carl Frampton this happened twice over the course of his momentous win over Leo Santa Cruz in New York on Saturday night.

Round 2 and Round 12. Six minutes of pure boxing glory that not only book-ended a Fight of the Year candidate and announced Frampton a global star, but created an Irish boxing legend.

‘The Jackal’ had perhaps edged a cagey opener, a feeling-out operation that suggested that Frampton was the better boxer, but was nowhere near conclusive proof that he could withstand the famed Santa Cruz steam train.

Any doubts about Frampton’s pedigree however were eradicated in the second stanza, an ‘oh my God’ three minutes where the Belfast man went toe-to-toe and bettered the Mexican legend-in-waiting. This was a 2016 Barrera-Morales type fight, with a short and pale Belfast boy playing both roles.

Frampton wasn’t going to be overwhelmed, he wasn’t going to shrink on the World stage, and he wasn’t going to lose. The opening two minutes were a boxing masterclass from the Tigers Bay fighter. Santa Cruz threw much but landed little and it was Frampton who was finding a home for his cleaner, more powerful shots. Frampton was shifting the tectonic plates of established boxing knowledge against ‘The Earthquake’ Santa Cruz, and with less than a minute to go. he landed a clipping left hook that shook the ground beneath the champion and sent him staggering into the ropes.

In Los Angeles, home of Santa Cruz, an hour previously there had been a 2.6 magnitude tremor. On boxing’s Richter Scale this was in the 9s.

It wasn’t a lucky shot. It wasn’t against the run of play. It was the exclamation point at the end of a two-minute statement where the Irishman had told all his detractors, all those who had written him off, that they had gotten it wrong.

Frampton offered the boxing World an altered view of Irish fighters. This wasn’t the relentless pressure of McGuigan, McCullough, or Collins. It wasn’t the game-changing right hook of Andy Lee. It was more complete. Faced with his greatest ever opponent, Frampton rose to the occasion and we got to see every single World class attribute in his locker. The power, the footwork, the elusiveness, the range of shots, the grit.

Like all great fights, it was by no means one-way traffic. Santa Cruz had more than his fair share of moments. The 6th, 7th, 10th, and 11th all saw him assert some semblance of superiority, but it wasn’t what he had expected. The five-plus punch flurries he is accustomed to landing were ones and twos against a fighter who was never in huge distress.

As I watched, I mentally proclaimed Round 2 of Santa Cruz-Frampton as my Round of the Year, this accolade was under threat less than forty minutes later. The final round of the fight in the Barclay Centre saw Santa Cruz look to continue his late charge but he was stopped in his tracks by the Belfast man.

Frampton is starting to make a pattern of finishing strong. In his self-proclaimed ‘stinker’ with Scott Quigg he got the better of an exciting final round to eliminate any doubt about the result. On Saturday he took this to a whole new level.

The conclusion of the tenth saw the unbeaten 29 year old wink at his corner, the end of the eleventh saw him salute the fantastic crowd. He knew what was coming. He knew he would rise again.

Santa Cruz came out for the final stanza buoyed by his recent success, sensing a tiredness in Frampton whom he had predicted would ‘gas’ after the sixth, and perhaps knowing he needed a knockout. Waiting for him was Frampton’s best. A customary hug from ‘The Jackal’ who then took up centre-ring may have thrown ‘El Terremoto.’ A couple of seconds passed, Leo attacked, three shots, all hit fresh air, a left hook for his troubles. It was going to be Frampton’s night.

Some snappy counters caught Santa Cruz coming in before the champion landed an overhead right. The challenger reeled back momentarily, Santa Cruz attacked, Frampton stood his ground breaking the Mexican’s spirit with ever blow he traded, the unfancied Irishman was not going to wilt. Showtime commentator Mauro Ranallo roared “is this round twelve or is this round one?”

Just before the half-way mark Frampton retook control, he went on the attack, Santa Cruz stepped off. The LA fighters head was rocked back thrice in a matter of seconds, first with a left hook then with a one-two. Leo smiled, “who is this guy?” The disheartened champion came again, again Frampton countered and angled away.

With thirty seconds to go Frampton clinched for the first time all night. Then again moments later. Who could blame him? But then the ten-second clapper came, and a legacy-minded Frampton became possessed. He stood and traded, and got the better of Santa Cruz, landing a left hook on the final bell.

What a round, what a fight, what a win.

Before Saturday my favourite Frampton moment had been the short right he had knocked Kiko Martinez out with in 2013. Now I don’t know. I’ve rewatched that left hook in the second and the final ten seconds of the twelfth umpteen times. What I do know however is that we are now talking about a man who is the greatest Irish boxer of modern times – and someone who could become the best ever.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie