Leo Santa Cruz’s shadow hung over the formal launch for Carl Frampton’s ring return yesterday, but it would be wrong to suggest that the Belfast ‘Jackal’ has a one-track mind in terms of his fighting future.
Having suffered his first defeat of his 24-fight career — and the loss of his WBA world featherweight title — to Santa Cruz in their Las Vegas rematch last January, two-weight world champion Frampton openly admits that his Mexican-American nemesis is “the one I want more than anyone”.
However, more boxing careers have been broken due to procrastination than the ones built on blind optimism, so the 30-year-old was eager not to allow ring rust to gather while he waits on a third bout with Santa Cruz.
Promotional politics — and the reluctance of the Santa Cruz’s team to let him fight in front of a hostile Irish crowd — all played a part in scuppering Frampton’s hopes of a summer showdown against his rival at Windsor Park.
So, instead, the Tiger’s Bay man will meet Mexican Andres Gutierrez when he makes his ring comeback at the SSE Odyssey Arena on July 29, fighting in his native Belfast for the first time in over two years at the venue where he made his name.
With the bout being a WBC world featherweight title eliminator, victory for Frampton will tee up the option of an autumn fight against WBC champ Gary Russell Jr — a fighter who has Irish ‘previous’ having made short work of Dubliner Pajo Hyland last year – should Santa Cruz’s team continue to shun a grudge match.
“Santa Cruz is the one I want more than anyone to be honest,” admitted Frampton yesterday. “We’re going the WBC route here with an eliminator and the fight with Russell may happen. We’re just keeping the doors open. I’m happy to fight anyone — I want to be a world champion again.
“But I want to make a statement here. It’s important to look good, it’s important to look impressive and just get the win.” Intriguingly, Gutierrez was lined up as a potential opponent for Frampton’s US debut in El Paso two years ago.
Back then, the late Alejandro Gonzalez Jr dropped ‘The Jackal’ twice before Frampton recovered to dig out a points win, and the Irishman yesterday joked that hard-hitting Gutierrez may have done more damage had he been in the opposite corner on his ‘off’ night.
The 23-year-old carries a record of 35-1-1, his sole loss being a contentious majority-decision defeat to fellow Mexican Cristian Mijares — a former super-flyweight world champion — in June of last year.
While Gutierrez may not be the ‘star’ name many fans were hoping to see Frampton face this summer, he packs a punch, having recorded 25 stoppages in 35 wins.
And trainer Shane McGuigan insisted that it is an ideal match-up as Frampton looks to recover from defeat, while taking on a competitive challenge.
“We’ve looked at him and I thought this is a great style for Carl,” said McGuigan Jr, son of Barry.
“This guy is a world-class puncher, I don’t think he’s got the same skill-set as Frampton, but you’ve got to beat guys like Gutierrez to get back to elite level.” Manager Barry McGuigan went so far as to describe the Gutierrez fight as being a “semi-final” fight.
There had also been talk that the 30-year-old Belfast fighter would fight IBF champ Lee Selby, but that was yet another match-up that fell by the wayside.
While the alphabet soup of world belts can be confusing, McGuigan hopes to book a big title bout for Frampton in the autumn against one of the ‘big four’ world champions.
“At this stage of Carl’s career, I don’t mind if it’s Santa Cruz next or Gary Russell or Lee Selby,” said McGuigan. “It just has to be one of the champions because I believe Carl is a future Hall of Fame fighter and he needs to get those big fights.
“But he also understands that he’s got to get his sharpness back in this fight. We’ve got to put on a performance here like a ‘semi-final’ fight because these are the semi-finals that you can get caught out in.”
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