In terms of high profile cards, boxing got off to a great start in 2017 with the Showtime/Sky Sports televised show from Brooklyn on January 14. This positive opening to the year should continue when the same two networks will broadcast a very strong January 28 promotion from Las Vegas to fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
Topped by the Carl Frampton vs. Leo Santa Cruz re-match, the action from MGM Grand also features Dejan Zlaticanin vs. Mikey Garcia in a world title fight in the 135lb division.
These two fights back to back may end up being the strongest main event/chief support combo of the year.
As mentioned Carl Frampton (23-0-0, 14KOs) will be headlining the bill, once again facing Leo Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18KOs) for the WBA “Super” Featherweight belt he won from Leo in a Barclays Center classic last July. Both men displayed great sportsmanship before and after that summer battle in New York but put it all on the line during the twelve fantastic rounds of combat. There is nothing to indicate that the re-match won't be just as breathtaking.
Belfast's Frampton goes into his second scrap with Santa Cruz convinced he will emerge victorious again. The recently crowned RING Magazine Fighter of 2016 spoke to boxing media earlier this week: “Even though Leo is taller than me I'm the bigger man. On fight night I'll be heavier and stronger. He's been able to bully opponents and wear them out, but he can't do that to me. I think he's making a big mistake jumping right back in.”
Los Angeles native Santa Cruz is determined to exact revenge on the only man who has beaten him as a professional. Leo was surprised by how many Frampton fans were in the building last time out and is expecting to have more fans of his own in attendance in Vegas. He told media at a public workout on Tuesday: “I don't think I had trouble adjusting to fighting on the east coast. There aren't as many Mexican fans over there so hopefully I will have some more support this time. I feel stronger since the last fight and I've been preparing for everything. We're sparring some bigger guys just to keep me prepared. We have strong, fast and heavy opponents. Carl Frampton won't have anything we aren't ready for.”
Both men are confident that they will have the answers on January 28 and based on their first encounter there are two ways to look at how the action will unfold.
One school of thought tells us that Frampton will win by an even wider margin. Having already gone the distance with Santa Cruz, the Irish boxer with a style that seems all wrong for Leo anyway, shouldn't be surprised by anything the former champion brings to the table and will be even more comfortable remaining in the pocket to land his powerful counter punches. This could lead to a one sided rampage on the scorecards or possibly even a stoppage win.
On the other hand it has been mentioned that the absence of Santa Cruz's father from large portions of the buildup to the first fight affected the quality of Leo's work in that bout. Santa Cruz Sr. was undergoing treatment for cancer during the previous training camp but he has been well enough to oversee this entire preparation. Many observers believe that this will be the difference on fight night and that the adjustments made under his father's full time guidance will enable Santa Cruz to be crowned champion again.
Whichever scenario plays out it will be a privilege to be able to watch as these two great fighters go head to head for the second time in six months.
Immediately prior to Frampton and Santa Cruz locking horns is a tasty looking appetiser. WBC Lightweight champion Dejan Zlaticanin (22-0-0, 15KOs) defends his title against highly skilled Mikey Garcia (35-0-0, 29KOs). This should be an interesting clash of styles; Zlaticanin's all out aggression versus Mikey's clever punch placement. While Garcia will be the popular pick to prevail anyone who has seen Dejan fight knows it will not be an easy night for the former 126 and 130lb world title holder.
During his time with the media Zlaticanin, of Montenegro, was blunt and to the point: “If Garcia tries to go toe-to-toe or stay in the center of the ring I will knock him out. If he tries to jab and move then I will have to find my way to his head and break him down. Mikey Garcia is already talking about fights with Manny Pacquiao and Vasyl Lomachenko but he hasn't gotten past me. He has a big test in the ring and I am going to stop him.”
California born Garcia, attempting to win a belt in the 135lb division to become a three weight world champion, is projecting the message that he is fully focused on the task at hand: “I'm not overlooking Zlaticanin, but everybody else seems to be. People ask me about what I'd want for future fights but I know how dangerous this guy is. Anything could happen. But I know that I have what it takes to beat him. He has power but I also have power. The best man is going to win that night.”
Both boxers appear ready to deliver a high quality, entertaining fight on January 28 in what is a legitimate main event fight in its own right.
Four fighters, two intriguing duels on what will be a significant night in Las Vegas. The outcomes of both contests will shape their respective weight classes for much of 2017. Defeat for any of these combatants will be a serious setback while for the victors unification fights look to be just around the corner.
The scene has been set and hopefully the fights will deliver. Regular readers of this site will no doubt be tuning in anyway but this is the type of card you should encourage friends and family to watch. If ever there was a big fight double feature to demonstrate how good professional boxing can be, this looks to be it.