Carl Frampton celebrates his July 30 victory over Leo Santa Cruz/Photo by USA Today
Winning a title fight against a worthy, not handpicked, opponent is tough enough. Doing so in the other guy’s country is even tougher.
Such was the case this year with Carl Frampton of Northern Ireland. He took on Scott Quigg in Quigg’s native Lancashire, England in a super bantamweight title-unification bout on Feb. 27, broke Quigg’s jaw and came away with a split-decision victory before about 20,000 at Manchester Arena.
What Frampton did July 30 was even more impressive. He moved up in weight and challenged Leo Santa Cruz of Lincoln Heights for his featherweight belt at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs) took Santa Cruz’s title via majority decision, handing Santa Cruz his first loss.
For his work, Frampton is this newspaper’s Fighter of the Year. He still gets goosebumps when discussing his win over Santa Cruz, who entered that bout 32-0-1 with world titles in three weight classes.
“Headlining in New York against a great fighter like Leo Santa Cruz was a dream come true,” said Frampton, who Jan. 28 will take on Santa Cruz in a rematch at MGM Grand in Las Vegas (on Showtime). “Now I have the opportunity to go to Las Vegas, where Leo has fought a few times.
“It’ll be his first time in the main event there as well, and I’m just excited to get out there and feel the buzz of fight week.”
Frampton believes he has become a very popular fighter, not just in his homeland. He had quite a few fans rooting him on at Barclays Center, thanks to New York City’s Irish population.
He said he realizes that Santa Cruz being from the L.A. area, he’ll bring more of his fans to Las Vegas than he did to New York City. Frampton doesn’t seem to care, though, and that’s what makes him the fighter he’s become.
“I believe if I use my brain a little bit more in this one, and don’t get dragged into his fight, that I can win it more convincingly,” Frampton said. “But there will be times in this fight where I’ll just have to bite down and fight for my life.”
If you love boxing, you love that kind of talk, that kind of fearlessness.
Fight of the Year
You probably won’t see many fights that end in a draw end up as our Fight of the Year. Nevertheless, the June 4 bout between super featherweight champion Francisco Vargas of Mexico and countryman Orlando Salido gets the nod.
That it was contested at StubHub Center in Carson was no surprise because that outdoor venue has been bringing out the ferocity in fighters for years. This was no different as the two went at one another with reckless abandon, showing no regard for personal safety.
When it was over, Vargas had retained his title because of the majority draw. He was happy with the decision. Salido thought he won. Ultimately, no one lost in the ring, nor out of it as the 7,378 in attendance were treated to one heck of a ring war.
Trainer of the Year
When featherweight Oscar Valdez of Mexico and super bantamweight Jessie Magdaleno of Las Vegas entered 2016, neither was a world champion. They are now, thanks in part to Manny Robles, who is our Trainer of the Year.
Robles, who trains fighters out of the Rock Gym in Carson, guided Valdez (21-0, 19 KOs) to a world title when Valdez stopped Matias Rueda of Argentina in the second round on July 23 at MGM Grand.
Then came Nov. 5 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. It was a night Robles won’t soon forget. On the Manny Pacquiao-Jessie Vargas undercard, Robles was in Magdaleno’s corner when he upset Nonito Donaire via unanimous decision, taking Donaire’s championship. This was Robles’ first fight with Magdaleno (24-0, 17 KOs), so this victory was ultra-impressive.
Only minutes later, Robles was in Valdez’s corner when he defended his title with a seventh-round TKO of Hiroshige Osawa of Japan.
That’s not to mention Robles has done good work with middleweight contender Jason Quigley (12-0, 10 KOs) of Ireland. He is just mowing opponents down in vicious fashion.
KO of the Year
Of course, I didn’t see every fight in the world this year. But in researching this subject, the Dec. 17 middleweight bout between Hassan N’Dam and Alfonso Blanco of Venezuela in N’Dam’s native France sticks out.
About 20 seconds in, N’Dam caught Blanco with a right cross on the chin. Blanco fell face first, his legs then twitching as the referee waved off the bout.
It was reminiscent of Pacquiao getting knocked cold and falling on his face after being crushed by a Juan Manuel Marquez right cross in their December 2012 fight.
We are two weeks out from the Jan. 14 super middleweight title-unification bout between Badou Jack (20-1-2, 12 KOs) of Sweden and James DeGale (23-1, 14 KOs) of London at Barclays Center in Brooklyn (on Showtime). … The main undercard bout for the Santa Cruz-Frampton remtach will see Mikey Garcia (35-0, 29 KOs) of Oxnard challenging Dejan Zlaticanin (22-0, 15 KOs) of Montenegro for his lightweight title. Garcia has won titles at featherweight and super featherweight.