Santa Cruz Regains Featherweight Title From Frampton. Garcia Knocks Out Zlaticann
On a card highlighted by two titles fight, Mikey Garcia aimed to gain a title in a third division as he faced the rough and rugged Dejan Zlaticanin for his WBC Lightweight title. Garcia entered this championship bout having fought only once in the past three year. Many critics felt that this particular fight may be too much too soon for Garcia after being out of the ring due to contractual issues with former promoter Top Rank. Promoter Richard Schaeffer even urged Garcia not to accept such a dangerous fight, but Garcia wasted very little time proving the naysayers wrong.
Garcia came out early in round 1 pumping his left jab against the aggressive southpaw Zlaticanin. Garcia kept perfect foot placement and displayed his educated left hand utilizing check hooks as Zlaticanin attempted to close distance. Zlaticanin appeared to be looking to land the left hook, even telegraphing it early on. Garcia was able to time Zlaticanin in round 2 with counters as he continued to bully his way forward. Garcia continued to control distance using mainly his jab and great foot movement. In round 3, Garcia began picking his shots even more as he started to throw his hook to the body. Zlaticanin continued to come forward without using a jab and it would prove to be detrimental for the champion from Montenegro. Garcia caught Zlaticanin coming in with a right uppercut that immediately stunned him and spun him around leaving him open for Garcia to follow up with a right hook that knocked Zlaticanin out cold. The referee wasted no time in calling a halt to the bout as Zlaticanin laid motionless on the canvas for a few minutes as health officials tended to him. Fortunately, he was able get back up.
Garcia and his camp displayed great sportsmanship towards the now former undefeated champion. In his post-fight interview, Garcia said he was back and ready to unify titles. He also mentioned moving up to 140 pounds possibly by the end of the 2017-year. Garcia improves his record to 36-0 (30 KOs).
In the main event of the evening, Ireland's Carl Frampton took on Leo Santa Cruz in a highly heralded rematch from their bout that was a fight of the year candidate for 2016. Frampton, recently named 2016 BWAA fighter of the year was making the first defense of the WBA featherweight title he won against Santa Cruz. The WBC Diamond belt was also at stake for the winner of this rematch. Many felt Frampton's win was controversial, which is why the two agreed upon an immediate rematch. The fight started in unfamiliar fashion. It was believed by many analysts that Santa Cruz would come out at a fast pace like he finished in the previous fight. However, he came out boxing and utilizing his jab, which seemed to stifle Frampton early on. Santa Cruz controlled the first 2 rounds easily with his jab and getting the better of the exchanges when Frampton was able to get inside of the jab and throw punches. Frampton looked more comfortable in round 3 as he began to utilize a few more angles that allowed him to get off his shots against the rangier Santa Cruz. It was still a fairly close round to call but Frampton definitely appeared to be mentally checked in to the fight finally.
Round 4 began with both fighters staring each other down, hesitant to throw at first but the round did have its share of heated exchanges as it came to an end. Frampton looked to be coming on in the middle rounds as his natural weight advantage began to wear a bit on Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz, normally a high-output fighter, had a huge decline in volume. Frampton on the other hand chose to work on the inside. If Santa Cruz appeared to be slowing down in the middle rounds, it may have just been a ploy to conserve energy. He came out in round 9 with vigor, displaying high output and moving forward and keeping the champion on his back foot. Leo clearly won the round but much like the first fight, there were many close rounds to judge. The fight was a testament of two different battles in the ring. Whichever fighter was moving forward appeared to have the momentum in this fight. But this time around, Leo did a better job of boxing, which is something he is not known for. In round 10, he was able to counterpunch Frampton and keep him missing. Santa Cruz, not much known for being a technical boxer, displayed the better skills in the championship rounds. Frampton attempted to use the same tactics that won him the first fight, landing the cleaner single shots. However, Santa Cruz landed in combinations in this fight from the onset, which proved to be the difference this time around.
The judges once again had the bout scored fairly closely as one judge ruled the fight a draw. The other two judges scored the bout 115-113 in favor of Leo Santa Cruz making him the winner by majority decision. With the victory, Santa Cruz improves his record to 33-1-1, (18 KOs); and recaptures the WBA Featherweight title he lost to Frampton last year along with the WBC Diamond belt. The WBC belt makes you wonder if a possible showdown with WBC champion Gary Russell Jr. looms, but Leo Santa Cruz made no mention of it in his post-fight interview. The two combatants appear to be headed for a trilogy bout as they both stated they would like to do a third fight.