Frampton-Santa Cruz rivalry echoes Gatti-Ward trilogy

Their contests are based on respect and friendship

Frampton-Santa Cruz rivalry echoes Gatti-Ward trilogy

Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz. Image: ©INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

As modern day boxing trilogies go, there is arguably none greater or more storied than when “Irish” Mickey Ward and Arturo “Thunder” Gatti squared off in three memorable bouts between 2002 and 2003.

They say styles make fights but in this case it was the heart and will of both fighters to win that produced a rivalry for the ages.

Two of the bouts were named the Ring Magazine’s “Fight of the Year” and their explosive 30 rounds of boxing are probably most remembered for round nine of the first fight:

Despite losing the first fight, Gatti came out on top 2-1 in their bouts and the pair became close friends during and long after they traded punches in the ring. After their second fight, Gatti wondered aloud if he had just fought his twin. Ward even went on to train Gatti for his final fight against Alfonso Gomez in 2007.  

Gatti died in suspicious circumstances in Brazil four years later. The Italian was inducted into boxing’s Hall of Fame in 2012 and Ward spoke at the ceremony.

In Leo Santa Cruz, Frampton may have found his perfect dance partner.

After he beat long-time domestic rival Scott Quigg to cement his place as the best super-bantamweight on the planet, he set his eyes on big fights in big venues in America.

The unbeaten WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz is who he honed in on. The Mexican brawler had held world titles in three weight divisions and had a big following in his native country. His CV included wins over Cesar Seda, Abner Mares and a stoppage win over former Frampton foe, Kiko Martinez.

Carl Frampton in action against Leo Santa Cruz. Image: ©INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

Stylistically he was a fan favourite and one of those “blocks punches with his head” kind of fighters – exactly the type that the Belfast native could out-box. And he did, just about. Their first fight ebbed and flowed as the two proud warriors traded jab for jab, hook for hook and punch for punch.

Frampton edged it on the score cards winning a majority decision. The fans, the writers and the fighters all wanted to see it again. An immediate rematch was offered and was duly accepted.

The second chapter picked up where the first left off in terms of action, punch volume and excitement. This time, however, Santa Cruz made the appropriate adjustment and used his reach more effectively and the scoring pendulum swung in his favour as he recorded a majority decision win.

After the bout, Frampton urged the Mexican to keep his pre-fight offer to come to Belfast if he won saying: "I hope so, I hope he is a man of his word and we can do it in Belfast. I have come to the States twice. We could do it four, five, six times. I hope we do it again." Frampton even offered to let him stay at his house.

Whether or not the pair become as close as Gatti and Ward remains to be seen but the stage is set for their final chapter. It should be in Belfast but wherever it is held, it won’t be a let-down.