The best I’ve ever felt. Carl Frampton’s first five words after logging in as a featherweight for the first time in his professional life. Amazing what a difference four pounds can make.
In the end, the Jackal only needed three and a quarter of them as he came in at 125.25lbs for a night that will weigh a whole lot heavier on his fighting legacy.
Frampton faces the most intimidating prospect of his life tonight in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center as he takes on a three-weight world champion who throws a punch just about every second he’s in the ring.
WBA super featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz is a relentless opponent. Finding the off switch is something that has flummoxed all 32 fighters who have come his way.
However, at his new weight, the Jackal feels he has found the tools to get the job done.
“I’m a natural featherweight,” he said after stepping off the scales. “This is the easiest I’ve made the weight in five/six years.
“I wanted a big name. I want to prove myself. I know I can deal with these guys. Whatever it takes to win. I’m gonna do. I’m coming home with that title.”
Outside and inside this €890m arena that has become the new home of boxing in the Empire State, Brooklyn was bustling.
Amid the noise, Frampton’s bullishness still stood out. It’s shared by all of Team Cyclone, some more vocal than others.
“It’s not if,” insisted manager and mentor Barry McGuigan, who held the very same WBA title 30 years ago.
“He’s going to do it. No ifs, buts or maybes. He’s going to beat the living daylights out of this guy. He’s going to ship a lot of shots in return but he’s going to beat the hell out of him.”
McGuigan was visibly excited, giddy even. But as the Saturday night lights of Brooklyn get ready to shine down, he’s not the only one.
Slice this one open and it’s a bewitching prospect. Two fighters in the very fillet of their late-20s prime.
Champions both, men for whom defeat is an alien feeling, Frampton and Santa Cruz bring a near-perfect contrast of styles into the ring. It’s why so many see a bout brimming with fight of the year potential.
“It might start off tepid but it will build up and become exciting quickly,” predicted McGuigan.
“He’ll be down the barrel with Santa Cruz all the time, he throws on average 150 punches a round. No matter what way you throw it around, the mesh of styles makes for a fantastic fight.
“Because they’re both committed, Carl more in a counter-punching position but Santa Cruz likes to come at you.
"He can box at a distance but he likes to come forward. He’s talking about fighting Carl at a distance but that’s just a red herring. He’ll come at us.”
When Santa Cruz comes looking, he usually ends up finding. His slight height advantage will help tonight but not nearly as much as his eight-inch reach superiority.
Then there’s those Duracell deliveries, the endless streams of shots have proved devastating to the likes of Abner Mares and Kiko Martinez in the past 12 months.
The flurries can leave him open, however. Frampton, crushing on the counter, will need to be just as light on his feet at featherweight as he was at super bantamweight. If he can glide and hang tough, things will get interesting fast.
His trainer, Shane McGuigan, struggled to keep a grin from creeping from the side of his mouth as he thought of his charge landing Santa Cruz with his first power punch at this higher class.
McGuigan had been adamant in El Paso last summer — when Frampton had flirted with disaster on his US debut against Alejandro Gonzalez Jr — that it was high time for his charge to move up in weight. One fight later, he’s got his wish.
“It feels like they think this is going to be a bit of an easy fight and I can’t wait to see Leo Santa Cruz’s face and his dad’s face and his brother’s face when Carl starts hitting him,” McGuigan said.
“We want that guy, hands up, hands forward, throwing lots of leather because it leaves him open and when Carl spots an opening...”
McGuigan Jnr didn’t feel the need to finish that sentence because the outcome is the same — when he spots openings, the Jackal takes them.
Leo Santa Cruz shapes as the toughest take of all. That’s what makes this fascinating. Brooklyn awaits.
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