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Santa Cruz vs. Frampton Pick

Leo Santa Cruz (32-0-1, 18 KOs) vs. Carl Frampton (22-0, 14 KOs)
When: Saturday, July 30, 2016
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York
TV: Showtime
Weight Class: WBA Featherweight Championship
by Scott of Predictem.com

Betting Odds: Leo Santa Cruz -160, Carl Frampton +130

Fight Analysis:

In a 126-pound blockbuster, WBA champ Leo Santa Cruz battles undefeated Irish star Carl Frampton at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on July 30. This battle features two of the better little guys in the sport—two men who are unbeaten in a combined 55 fights. This looks to be a potential classic and it's by far an easy fight to pick a winner, with each man having a salient case for possible victory.

Frampton, 29, is coming off a nice win over undefeated Scott Quigg. But the anticipated fireworks in that fight never really happened, leaving Frampton with something less that a terrific win. A win over Santa Cruz would take him right to the top of the sport. This is his first big fight at this weight, as he moves from 122 to 126 pounds. And he's smaller than Santa Cruz, at 5'5" with a short 62-inch reach.

Santa Cruz, 27, is a three division champion, but fans have been dismayed at his career trajectory, with things seemingly taking forever to unfold. Two fights ago, he scored the best win of his career with a win over fellow Southern Californian standout Abner Mares. He didn't dominate necessarily, but it was a good win.

The concern with Santa Cruz is that his best years were wasted against second-rate opposition. He has fought nearly a dozen world title bouts, with the perhaps shopworn Mares being the gem of the lot. In addition, he keeps rising in weight, despite there being no apparent reason to do so. All of this has led to Santa Cruz perhaps growing a bit stale. When he first burst on the scene, he had people excited with his aggressive body-punching style. As he has risen in weight, some of that luster has come off. In his last bout against Kiko Martinez, he basically hacked away at his opponent until it was over. It was effective, but far from the artfully brutal exhibitions that Santa Cruz used to produce.

By the same token, Santa Cruz is on the precipice of some big things and if he were to return to vintage form, this would be the time to do it. There are an abundance of things to like about the Rosemead-based Mexican slugger. He has a good disposition with an even temper and a certain level of calm, despite the sometimes-frenetic pace he employs. Some of the steam has come off his shots with the rise in weight, but he is still a merciless body-puncher—one of the best in the business at going downstairs. It's difficult to remember a time where he was hurt, as he is very rugged. He has good stamina and a winner's spirit. There is just this nagging feeling, however, that he's not really getting better and that he may have peaked a few years ago. That's not a definite appraisal, but more of an inkling.

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Physically, Santa Cruz has certain advantages. He has nearly 4 inches in height over Frampton and a 7-inch reach advantage. The site of the fight would indicate Santa Cruz got the better shake, being that he doesn't have to cross an ocean for this fight. But Santa Cruz is a west coast guy and with Frampton getting robust support from the NYC Irish population, this might be less of a daunting road trip for "The Jackal" than it appears on paper.

Frampton turned pro in 2009, soon establishing himself as one of the UK's better prospects. In his 15th fight, he TKO'd former champ Steve Molitor, before adding wins over Kiko Martinez (twice), Hugo Cazares, Chris Avalos, Alejandro Gonzalez, Jr., and unbeaten fellow titlist Quigg in his last fight. It's been mostly smooth-sailing for Frampton. He did get dropped twice against Gonzalez, Jr. and faded late against Quigg, but he's on the precipice of scoring one of the biggest ever wins for a visiting Irish fighter. A win here could make him a real superstar. Needless to say, a lot is on the line for both men.

What Frampton brings to the table is hard to appreciate by just randomly tuning into one of his fights. His fundamentals seem mediocre. His form is not what you hope to see from a world class fighter. He doesn't adapt well in the ring, with opponents able to go to the same well time and again. These are traits that would be troubling if one didn't acknowledge the flip side of the coin.

What Frampton lacks in the more classically-admired ring traits, he makes up for with other traits. He is wildly unorthodox. Fighters are used to certain things and Frampton throws a wrench into that by operating outside of the box. He is incredibly resolute and opponents that look like they found an answer are soon on the receiving end of punishment. Frampton is very tough and difficult to discourage. He has a certain improvisational air to his overall game and it really leaves opponents flummoxed. He shoots shots from weird angles. He moves strangely at times, but before you know it, the opponent is in a lot of trouble.

Sometimes as fans and even as bettors handicapping the match, we get too caught up in the nuts and bolts of how a fighter gets to the winner's circle. From that standpoint, Frampton leaves something to be desired. What we sometimes lose sight of is a fighter's simple ability to manufacture victory. And Frampton knows how to win. It's a simple, yet often overlooked asset to have. The guy is a winner.

I can easily see Frampton navigating his way to a decision win, but it would likely be very close. Frampton might be a more special and unique fighter than Santa Cruz. And he could end up producing the more eye-catching work that puts enough rounds into his column. The scenario I see as being more likely, however, sees Santa Cruz throwing a ton more punches and outworking Frampton, putting enough rounds in the bank to withstand the standout moments that Frampton produces. I'm going with Santa Cruz.

My Prediction to Win the Fight:
I'm betting on Leo Santa Cruz to win at -160. I see Santa Cruz' greater workrate and durability combining to give him the edge over the less-busy Frampton en route to a close win in a tough fight where the real winners are the fans. Find the lowest favorite odds and highest paying underdog odds for this fight at 5Dimes Sportsbook.

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