Carl Frampton vs. Leo Santa Cruz II: Preview and Prediction for Title Fight

Briggs Seekins@BriggsfighttalkFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2017

Carl Frampton vs. Leo Santa Cruz II: Preview and Prediction for Title Fight

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    The year might be less than a month old, but the boxing calendar is already in high gear. This weekend in Las Vegas, we get a rematch of one of 2016's best fights when undefeated WBA featherweight champion Carl Frampton reconvenes with Leo Santa Cruz. 

    Frampton edged Santa Cruz by majority decision last year in an all-action bout. Both of these guys are in their prime and among the top 20 or so pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. 

    There is every reason to expect that Chapter II will be as exciting as the first tilt. 

Tale of the Tape

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press
    Per BoxrecCarl FramptonLeo Santa Cruz
    Record:23-0, 14 KOs32-1-1, 18 KOs
    Height:5'5"5'7.5"
    Reach:62"69"
    Weight:126 lbs126 lbs
    Age:2928
    Stance:OrthodoxOrthodox
    Hometown:Belfast, Northern IrelandRosemead, California
    Rounds:140204

    These two are a year apart and have faced similar levels of opposition. Both men have held championship belts in multiple divisions. 

    The reach advantage is substantial for Santa Cruz. But in their last bout, Frampton was largely able to control the terrain and take that edge away from the taller man. 

Main Storylines

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Frampton was on everybody's short list for 2016 Fighter of the Year. His July victory over Santa Cruz was a big part of the reason.

    Frampton won that fight after having defeated fellow unbeaten boxer Scott Quigg at 122 pounds in February. Frampton won the biggest fight in two different divisions last year, displaying a deep gas tank and commanding ring generalship in both cases.

    Santa Cruz is looking to come back from his first professional loss. He has a physical, fan-pleasing style and could still develop into a major star, especially if he can avenge himself against Frampton.

    These two waged a competitive, exciting fight last year. I thought Frampton won clearly, but a few small adjustments from Santa Cruz could easily lead to a different result this time around.  

Strengths

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    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    Santa Cruz is a high-volume puncher who mixes his attack well to the body and head. At the same time, he does a very good job at getting his hands back into defensive position at the end of a multi-punch flurry. 

    He's an accurate, concussive puncher who usually lands a lot more shots than he gets hit by in return.

    Frampton uses the ring very well. He gets in and out of range quickly and is exceptional at creating better angles for his own attacks.

    He did an outstanding job of dictating pace against Santa Cruz in their last bout. He has quick hands and a very good double jab that he uses to set up his power punches. 

Weaknesses

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    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    Santa Cruz allowed Frampton to dictate the pace of their last fight, ceding him terrain and allowing the much shorter fighter to control the range.

    But Santa Cruz has always had a habit of getting drawn into exchanges on the inside, where he gives up his height. He cannot cede that physical advantage against a talent like Frampton. 

    Frampton has extremely short arms for a world-class prizefighter. This created no problems in his last fight with Santa Cruz, but a longer fighter who manages to establish a stiff, accurate jab and maintain clever footwork could give Frampton trouble.

    And Santa Cruz has been able to establish that game plan against very good fighters in the past, such as Abner Mares.  

Carl Frampton Will Win If...

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Frampton was able to beat Santa Cruz last time they fought because he did an outstanding job of controlling the range of engagement. He managed to consistently stay either inside of or slightly beyond Santa Cruz's reach.

    Despite ceding Santa Cruz an advantage in reach of over half a foot, Frampton was able to make sure he was consistently in the better position during exchanges.

    It was a tough fight for Frampton last time and should be again. To impose his own game plan on a physically impressive opponent like Santa Cruz, Frampton had to work and hustle for nearly every second of the fight.

    But if he can do it again, he should be able to win again.  

Leo Santa Cruz Will Win If...

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    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    Santa Cruz enjoys an advantage of seven inches in reach over Frampton. He will need to make better use of that physical advantage this time if he wants to win the rematch.

    Santa Cruz must get off first with his jab. He has to pull the trigger and pump out the lead left, drilling Frampton before the shorter man can slip into range. He needs to slow Frampton down at the end of his straight punch, then let the hook and uppercut combos go when Frampton attempts to close into range.

    In truth, it is basically the same game plan he failed to completely implement in their first bout.  

Prediction

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Prior to their first fight, I predicted that Santa Cruz would defeated Frampton. But I was far from shocked to be wrong. 

    I expect this rematch to look very much like the original. It will be competitive and hard-fought, and Frampton will once against manage to win a close decision. 

    Like last time, I will not be very surprised to be wrong. Santa Cruz has shown the ability to exploit his reach before against Mares. He lost by narrow margins last time out against Frampton. 

    But I think Frampton will be able to do exactly what he did last time, forcing the longer man to fight at his own preferred range and making the frenetic Santa Cruz fight at his own preferred pace. 

    If I am correct and Frampton does win, there will be a lot of demand in England to see Frampton face IBF belt holder Lee Selby. But I would prefer to see him fight WBC champ Gary Russell Jr.