‘The Jackal Army’ hit Las Vegas for their man’s rematch with the Mexican-American, with thousands making the trip and letting themselves be known at the MGM Grand.
Frampton had scored a stunning win over Santa Cruz in New York the previous summer which, in combination with his super bantamweight unification triumph over Scott Quigg, saw the Belfast boxer deemed the consensus Fighter of the Year with awards coming in from The Ring, ESPN, the Boxing Writers Association of America and more.
However, Frampton was unable to hold onto the WBA featherweight title and was defeated on a majority decision by Santa Cruz in Vegas.
The Ulsterman would not that the defeat was down to underperformance alongside a smart tactical switch from Santa Cruz and he would immediately call for a decisive third meeting.
In one of the major disappointments of Frampton’s career, a third fight between the pair, a rubber match, would not take place.
Before their initial rematch, Santa Cruz had promised, should he win, to return to Belfast for the trilogy fight by ‘El Terremoto’ would go back on his word.
Santa Cruz would put forward his father and trainer, José, as the reason for this – first noting Don José’s belief that his son would not receive fair judging in Belfast and later revealing worries over his father’s visa status and whether he would be able to re-enter Donald Trump’s America should he leave to country.
Over the past two years Frampton has admitted that he has lost some respect for Santa Cruz and also implored the LA-based fighter to exert some control over his own career to no avail.
With ‘unfinished business’ being the feeling of Frampton, the 31-year-old was disappointed to see the commemorations of his rematch loss be described as Santa Cruz having “settled the score” – and he would tweet as much.
— SHOWTIME Boxing (@ShowtimeBoxing) January 28, 2019
1 each is not settling the score https://t.co/dHpw3gyPCt
— Carl Frampton MBE (@RealCFrampton) January 29, 2019
Frampton is currently recovering from his loss to IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington and, up until recently, his future in the sport looked unsure.
Retirement seemed a distinct possibility for a fighter who turns 32 next month but Frampton has indicated that he will box on if he can secure big fights.
The Tiger’s Bay fighter has confirmed that rematches with either Warrington or Leo Santa Cruz or a fight with the keen WBO champ Oscar Valdez will all keep him going.
A Warrington rematch looks off the table – despite common promoter Frank Warren having been keen before their clash which he would afterwards label the greatest fight he had ever seen in Britain.
Mexican Valdez seems the likeliest, with Top Rank boss Bob Arum saying that he wants his man to defend the belt versus Frampton – should he, as expected, come through his comeback bout this weekend versus Italian Carmine Tommasone.
Santa Cruz is more unclear.
The 30-year-old has previously mentioned Frampton as a fight he wants but now, following the Warrington fight, no longer namedrops the Irishman. However, it has been reported that the Premier Boxing Champions platform are open to the trilogy fight.
Santa Cruz defends the WBA belt next month, taking on Rafael Rivera who has replaced the injured Miguel Flores – with both match-ups having come in for major criticism.
The California fighter has stated that he wants to box three times in 2019, with unifications being hoped for – although his recent history would raise doubts here.
Following his rematch win over Frampton, Santa Cruz would talk up a rematch with Abner Mares but fell into inactivity and required a warm-up versus Chris Avalos in October 2016. A similarly long gap then ensued before he again clearly defeated Mares last June.
A unification with WBC champ Gary Russell Jr was mooted for the Deontay Wilder v Tyson Fury undercard last month but nothing would come of this. Instead, he returns at the Microsoft Theater in LA on February 16th against Rivera – who took the ‘0’ from Mick Conlan’s next opponent Ruben Garcia Hernandez back in 2015 but has done little at world level, with a whitewash loss to future title challenger JoJo Diaz being the sum of it.