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The fog around Carl Frampton’s next opponent is beginning to clear

The sands in the featherweight division at world level continue to shift.

Ireland has a huge interest in the 126lbs class due to Carl Frampton [23(14)-1(0)], and fans are desperate to know who ‘The Jackal’ will face next.

Frampton held the WBA belt at the turn of the year, but would lose in January in his immediate rematch with Leo Santa Cruz [33(18)-1(0)-1]. The Belfast man has since confirmed that he will fight at Windsor Park this Summer in a homecoming bout, but his opposition remains unclear.

Many had hoped for a third and deciding bout with Santa Cruz, especially in light of ‘El Terremoto’s’ declaration in Belfast last year that he would return to The Titanic City for a third fight. However, the three-weight champ would go back on his word in the aftermath of the Frampton rematch in Vegas, citing his father and trainer José’s fear that Santa Cruz would fall victim to a home-town decision should he make the trip across the Atlantic.

With Santa Cruz unwilling to travel, and with Frampton insistent on a bout in Belfast after over two years on the road, negotiations broke down and the WBA ordered a rematch between the Mexican-American and local rival Abner Mares [30(15)-2(1)-1], holder of the lightly-regarded regular belt.

With both Santa Cruz and Mares out of the question, most feel that IBF champion Lee Selby [24(9)-1(0)] is the most desirable and likely replacement.

Both Selby and Frampton share a common respect, as do their management teams Cyclone and the Sanigars, with the Welshman also repeatedly stating his openness to coming to Belfast.

Now, occurrences tonight have made that fight look a whole lot more probable.

Gary Russell Jr [27(16)-1(0)], featherweight champion with the WBC, has had his postponed title defence with Colombian Oscar Escandon [25(17)-2(0)] refixed for May 20th in Maryland at the MGM National Harbor.

Russell, who defeated Dublin’s Patrick Hyland in his most recent fight almost a year ago, had been set to face Escandon on March 11th, but an injury to the South American saw the bout shelved.

In the interim, Frampton gained the #1 contender spot with the WBC, and teased of a potential “curve-ball” with regards his next opponent. Most believed that this was Russell, however tonight’s announcement, and the nature of modern boxing, would seemingly confirm that the American will not be making the trip to Belfast less than three months after this title defence.

With Selby, Frampton, Mares, Santa Cruz, and Russell all being advised by the influential Al Haymon, and WBO champion Oscar Valdez [21(19)-0] being under Top Rank, Selby seems to be the only recognisable name left in the division for Frampton to face.

An announcement is due in the next week and a half and, with a big name promised, it looks like it could be The Welsh Mayweather who makes the trip to Ireland.

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