Election season may be dominating every minute of the relentless news cycle on this side of the Atlantic but Carl Frampton has come stateside looking for a different kind of Big Mo.
The Belfast world champion is eager to provide added momentum to a rolling hot summer of Irish sporting success when he takes on Leo Santa Cruz in Brooklyn tomorrow night. He has a chance to become a two-weight world champion. History and unprecedented riches are on offer in the WBA super featherweight showdown too.
But on the heels of the European Championship exploits of both of the island’s football teams, and before close friends Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan lead Ireland’s Olympic charge in Rio de Janeiro, Frampton wants to keep things cooking along the glory trail. “I think it’s going to be huge — 2016 could really go down as a big year in Irish sporting history,” said the 29-year-old. “With both teams, Northern Ireland and the Republic doing so well in the Euros. I’ve already unified a division this year when I beat [Scott] Quigg and I’m going to beat Santa Cruz and we’re hoping to pick up a few medals with the boys at the Olympic Games. It’s going to be a huge year, 2016. I feel it’s going to go down as one of the greatest years.”
Both world champions, Frampton and Santa Cruz came face to face again yesterday at the final press conference in the Dream Hotel in Lower Manhattan. Tuesday was the first occasion they got up close and personal — for a photo op atop the Empire State Building. Seeing his vaunted, all-action opponent in the flesh didn’t add any worries. If anything, it put the underdog at ease.
“My initial thought was that he didn’t you have as much height [advantage] as I thought he might. The height advantage isn’t massive,” added Frampton, visibly savouring his move up four pounds to featherweight. “He’s a bit bigger than me but he’s not enormous. We’re two relaxed guys. When you do that [hype and aggro], it’s all media stuff. I don’t really play into that stuff too much. Maybe as the fight gets closer, things may get a little more heated. But we’re respectful of each other and that’s the way it should be.”
The respect is clear because it should be. These are two fighters who have never tasted defeat in their professional lives. For both men, this is a date that stands out as the most daunting in their lives. They admit as much.
“He’s a very good fighter. He’s relentless, he throws a lot of punches. He’s got a big reach advantage over me and a height advantage too,” said Frampton. “I’ve been coming up against bigger guys all my life. I’ve been boxing since I was seven years old and everyone seems to be bigger than me. It’s no different here.
“I feel like I have very good distance control. I’m very explosive, I can get in and out of range very quickly. I can punch hard too and that might be difference.”
Santa Cruz is a major mover of the dial on the other side of America but this is the first time the Mexican has left his California home to fight in New York. When asked to shape up the challenger who has come from across the Atlantic, he echoed Frampton’s sentiments, as he predicted a ‘war’ at the Barclays Centre.
“Carl Frampton, he has everything. Great footwork, great punches and power. He’s undefeated. So he’s the best I’ve faced,” said the champion, two years the challenger’s junior.
“We’ve both come here hungry. We don’t want to suffer that first loss so we’re going to leave everything in the ring. That’s why it’s going to be some fight. We’re going to roll with everything we have to make sure we don’t lose.”
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