Carl Frampton vs Leo Santa Cruz, Mikey Garcia vs Elio Rojas, Tony Harrison vs Rabchenko
BY KID HERSH
From the Barclays Center in New York came a very highly anticipated featherweight matchup in Carl Frampton moving up in weight to face title holder and fellow undefeated fighter Leo Santa Cruz. The co-feature is Mikey Garcia entering the ring for the first time in almost three years now - with fans nearly altogether forgetting about him despite him at one point entering many top ten pound for pound lists.
First up though was Tony Harrison (23-1, 19KO's) vs Sergey Rabchenko (27-1, 20KO's). First up before the bell rang Paulie Malignaggi joined the crew in a hurry after just having a fight himself. In the first round Harrison set the pace by using the ring and his fast hands to set the tempo that he wanted. He fired off quick jabs and was circling Rabchenko - who was simply following Harrison around and getting off a few body shots here and there. The second round was more of the same until in the third Rabchenko tried to up his work rate and get to his man. It was not working though, as Harrison kept his man on the outside with jabs and now added more straight right hands. To clip Rabchenko while he jumped in at times while looking to change the course of the fight. Rabchenko was noticeably frustrated in the fifth round, where he was switching between orthodox and southpaw in an attempt to get some sort of offense mounted. The rounds were looking very similar as it turned to the second half of the fight because Harrison was sticking to his game plan and boxing beautifully from range as Rabchenko was unable to adjust to anything he did. Harrison only slightly changed his gameplan in the sixth and seventh rounds, where he started to drop his hands occasionally to show his dominance. He was still in total control though and did not take any shots from it, with Rabchenko looking dejected because even with Harrison dropping his hands and standing in the pocket at times he could not mount any offense because he was getting beat to the punch but the quicker and more technically gifted fighter using his length to sharp shoot. Less than a minute into the ninth round Harrison had completely taken the fight out Rabchenko and this was clearly evidenced when he got the stoppage win off of a right hand to the chin of Rabchenko, which wobbled his legs and backed him up as he tried to get away from Harrison who was ready to jump all over him. He got up but looked like a combination of wobbly and mentally beaten, not really wanting to continue as referee Arthur Mercante Jr. Stopped the bout with no protest from him or his corner (Ricky Hatton). Great, great win here for Harrison who is suddenly on the map now and another player in the very deep and very stacked 154lb class.
Next up was the long awaited return of Mikey Garcia (34-0, 28KO's) vs Elio Rojas (24-2, 14KO's). This fight is taking place at the 140lb limit which is new territory for both men. The real talk of the fight though is of course just what Mikey Garcia has in him. I have long thought that while lots of fans are writing him off now as long forgotten and not being a player anymore he surely has a lot to offer. I thought this way because he is a natural with boxing for starters - it is not something that comes uneasily to him because he has always had that slick footwork and natural ability in the ring - as he himself and his trainers have said many times in the past. Also, he has not been in wars so I highly doubt he is shopworn. Add on top of that that he is only 28 years old and so naturally he likely would have moved up weight classes in this time frame and I think we have a lot to see out of him yet. But, in any case, the fight got underway and Garcia looked super balanced and sharp as ever. He has a really natural rhythm to him and always appears in position and perfectly balanced. Glad to see he has not lost that with his long layoff! Garcia started to unload right hands in the second round and while Rojas is just fast and awkward enough to be hanging in there he also looked extremely nervous and not comfortable at all. This all mounted midway through the third round when Garcia landed a left hook that dropped Rojas. He got up and looked ok but was dropped a minute later from a beautiful right hand that definitely hurt Rojas more than the first knockdown. Rojas got up noticeably hurt but his brain had the warrior mentality going as he screamed "vamos!" And pounded his chest. He made it through the remainder of the round as Mikey smiled and knew he had his man on the way out despite his chest pounding antics and outward aggression. Rojas made it through the fourth round despite bleeding, being tired andd arm weary. The fifth round was the end as Rojas went downn two more times before telling the referee that he did not want to continue. Amazing wiin here for Mikey. Really the only thing I can critique is that in the fourth and fifth rounds he started taking right hands flush occasionally and that could be a problem if he was in against a puncher. But, despite that, I think he was looking for openings and simply got caught a couple times while looking to take his man out when he knew there was no danger posed. Mikey is officially back.
Main event time featuring Leo Santa Cruz (32-0-1, 18KO's) vs Carl Frampton (22-0, 14KO's). Before the fight kicked off we saw Lee Selby and Gary Russell Jr on camera and Russell was giving Selby some shit because of his comment that he would like to face Frampton more than Russell because Russell isn't well known. Mr. Russell took a minute to say that he has "the money belt", the WBC belt, and that he is going to add the IBF title (Selby's) to that before taking on the winner of this fight. Then he also added a little later that he is still focused on avenging his only loss to Lomachenko, simply staring down the camera and saying "I'm coming". Selby was cordial in response, simply saying that he meant him and Frampton could sell better in the UK than him and Russell. In any case featherweight is stacked as usual - my favorite division, always. The fight would get underway with Frampton being the underdog but being cheered while Santa Cruz was booed. This is because Leo is a west coaster andd this is his first time fighting in the big apple while Frampton brought a big contingent of Irish with him from overseas seeing as how they are rabid fans. The atmosphere was simply electric. The fight started off tense but not with a ton of action as Frampton controlled the distance - already unlike other Santa Cruz opponents in the past who let him dictate the distance which, in turn, dictates the pace which he likes to set so high. The second round was a scorcher as both men stood in the pocket and traded shots. Frampton seemed to be getting the best of it, with his punches clearly more powerful than Santa Cruz's. This would show about two minutes into the round when Frampton hit his man with a left hook to the temple that sent Santa Cruz back into the ropes. It technically could have been called a knockdown, due to the ropes holding him up, but it would have been a "weak" one and so it's likely better to leave it out and just let the men fight in an instance like it. Frampton followed up quickly smelling blood but Santa Cruz recovered very fast and was throwing punches in return on steady legs almost immediately. Santa Cruz is having success but he is really having a tougher time finding the target than any time in the past due to Frampton's excellent footwork and movement. Not to mention Frampton is catching his man in between punches, using the length of Santa Cruz to his disadvantage because of his quicker hands and positioning. Frampton started to mix in uppercuts in the third round but in the fourth round Santa Cruz got aggressive and looked more like the Leo we know from the past as he backed his man around the ring and got off more punches effectively. He landed some nice hooks and caught Frampton pulling straight back from his punches at times, which wasn't going to work every time against the longer man. Frampton came right out in the fifth round and was pressing Santa Cruuz backwards, turning the tide back in his favor as Santa Cruz cannot fight well going backwards. He then went back to counter punching, which blunted Santa Cruz's output because he was getting caught by the quicker man with shorter arms. The sixth round was an amazing one as they both traded shots in the trenches, again with Frampton's punches doing more damage and moving the target as I saw that Leo is even flinching at times while throwing his punches which don't have much steam on them. He threw a lot of shots but they were not super effective, to my eyes, as I would much rather pick the cleaner and harder punching of Frampton. The coming rounds were very closely fought as the action traded hands. It just felt to me that Santa Cruz was not fighting anywhere near his typical fight - he doesn't have control, or ring generalship like we have seen in the past out of him. Frampton was getting caught with shots because Santa Cruz throws no matter what, but it was nothing he couldn't handle and his shots in return were much more telling. The fight was an amazing one with FOTY potential written all over it. Even the championship rounds down the stretch were just phenomenal, with a punch average about 200 per round between the two fighters as they banged away. Both were landing and both were in amazing shape as they didn't slow down despite the torrid pace and punishment taken. The official cards came in a bit controversial, with one Italian judge having the fight even at 114-114 while the two American judges had it for Frampton 116-112 and 117-111. Huge win for Frampton who makes history in becoming Ireland's first two weight division world champion.