Two seasoned veterans and a newcomer came out of the weekend as big winners of major world titles, overcoming opposition Las Vegas and California on Saturday.
Featherweight Leo Santa Cruz turned the tables on arch-rival Carl Frampton in a rematch to their 2016 showdown in New York’s famed Madison Square Garden. This time the bout took place in the more Santa Cruz friendly locale of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas but “El Terremoto” didn’t need friendly judging to post a majority decision verdict over his Irish opponent to recapture the WBA “super” crown.
Santa Cruz abandoned his usual free swinging tactics for a more economical approach that maximized his height advantage over the shorter, more mobile Frampton. This reduced opportunities for the counter-punching champion as Santa Cruz focused on maintaining distance and punching to the body any time that Frampton managed to get in close.
Frampton couldn’t adjust to this tactical shift and had to resort to attempts at swarming Santa Cruz but the challenger proved adept at winning most of those exchanges. “The Jackal” did have his moments, enjoying isolated success but couldn’t replicate his control of the fight that marked their first encounter.
Both fighters displayed excellent stamina throughout all 12 rounds, battling until the final bell before Santa Cruz was awarded a 115-113, 115-113, 114-114 majority decision victory, regaining the WBA belt that Frampton took off him last year.
Santa Cruz improves to 33-1-1 (18) while Frampton suffers his first loss, sliding to 23-1-1 (14).
The undercard in Vegas featured a dominant performance from former two-weight world champ Mikey Garcia, 36-0 (30), who cemented his return from a two-year layoff by winning the WBC lightweight title from southpaw Dejan Zlaticanin, 22-1 (15).
Garcia kept the shorter Zlaticanin at a distance with a sharp jab, using constant movement to keep the champion off balance and unable to launch attacks. This stymied the normally aggressive Zlaticanin, who could not figure out the riddle posed to him.
Zlaticanin wasn’t using his jab to get inside so Garcia didn’t have much incoming fire to deal with, just the occasional overhand left as the champion rushed in. This proved to be a dangerous approach in the third round, as Garcia sidestepped one such attack and landed a crushing right uppercut that stood Zlaticanin up and made a perfect target for a right that put the Montenegro man out cold.
Garcia wins a world title in a third weight class and is now in line for lucrative unification clashes or perhaps even a massive fight at light welter against divisional boss Terrance Crawford.
Over at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California, Mexican contender Miguel Berchelt, 31-1 (28), graduated to the big time by battering WBC super feather king Francisco Vargas, 23-1-2 (17), for 11 rounds.
The heavy-handed challenger was the boss from the first bell, as Vargas simply didn’t have either the punch power nor the defensive skills to keep Berchelt at bay.
Vargas proved to be incredibly tough at soaking up the punishment handed out by Berchelt but finally cuts and exhaustion wore him down until the contest was called off.
Berchelt could prove to be a difficult test for anyone at super feather and a title defense against countryman Orlando Salido would probably be a fight of the year candidate.