Between their two fights, and within them, Leo Santa Cruz vs Carl Frampton has been like a goddam lava lamp, shifting, evolving, never settling on one hard shape. In their excellent rematch Saturday on Showtime, it was Santa Cruz who showed the newest dimensions, and he won, barely, and justly.
Watching these two men feed off what the other does has been a real purists’ pleasure, beyond producing terrific action. Although Santa Cruz showed before they met last year he wasn’t simply a brawler, he was mainly a volume puncher with a smidge of underrated boxing skill. Frampton was the slicker, counterpunching technician with some power and speed. The first fight more or less played out to form, with Frampton forcing Santa Cruz’s volume down and outboxing him, although Santa Cruz boxed plenty well and Frampton mixed it up more than we might’ve expected.
Saturday? It was Santa Cruz who outboxed Frampton, forcing his foe into a pure brawler’s posture. Santa Cruz’s jab was outstanding, and his defense, never much of a forte, was excellent. He did some of his best work counterpunching. Meanwhile, Frampton was trying to force firefights inside.
But that overall narrative doesn’t really capture the contours. Frampton won rounds mostly when he would get in then out again, reset and attack anew. And Santa Cruz, while he never lingered up close, did his best to disengage and use his length after trading some shots.
Scorecards on Twitter were all over the place, although broadly, Santa Cruz was more in control early and late, and Frampton in the middle. Momentum swayed to and fro. If there was one edge, it was that Frampton never could drag Santa Cruz into a brawl, with Santa Cruz remaining disciplined and surprising Frampton along the way.
The judges had it right, ultimately, with one judge scoring it a draw and the other two scoring it 115-113 for Santa Cruz.
It doesn’t make sense for anything other than a rematch to happen next. These two are made for each other. They bring out the best in each other, over and over again. How might they reinvent themselves for the third session? We can’t wait to find out.
(LAS VEGAS — Carl Frampton [R] and Leo Santa Cruz battle during their featherweight fight at MGM Grand Garden Arena; Photo: Steve Marcus/Getty Images)