Barry McGuigan said: There will be a third fight, they have given us their word after Frampton suffered a first career defeat and lost his featherweight title
Barry McGuigan was not in the mood for false promises. Carl Frampton, the Northern Irishman he reveres like a son, had just fallen to the first defeat of his 24-fight career and had the WBA featherweight title won so brilliantly six months ago in New York wrestled from his grasp by Leo Santa Cruz, the man who was felled on that raucous Barclays Center evening.
No one was begrudging the Mexican his moment of triumph. Santa Cruz was excellent, unleashing to perfection a game plan which forced Frampton to abandon his preferred counter-punching role and instead act as the aggressor.
That allowed the Los Angeles-based fighter to use his seven-inch reach advantage to devastating effect and regain his title through a majority decision. The judges Dave Moretti and Glenn Feldman scored it 115-113; Burt Clements had it 114114. As talk turned instantly to making a third fight this year, McGuigan hoped the 29-year-old would receive an instant redemption shot in his native Belfast.
After two years away Frampton wants to go home and, because both fighters are advised by the mogul Al Haymon, talks will be forthcoming, especially as Santa Cruz put his hand up when asked about completing what would be an enthralling trilogy. Nothing, however, is guaranteed.
I dont want to hear any excuses, McGuigan said. He [Leo] said he would do it so I want him to be decent. We were decent with him, honest. We said we lost marginally. Weve done it twice over here and it makes sense for Santa Cruz as well.
I had a discussion with Al, hes the big player and said there will be a third fight. They have given us their word. Hes told us he will come to Belfast. Hes told us he will fight him and weve got to trust him.
Santa Cruz declared a true champion goes anywhere, though whether his team would look to leave California for a night of rough and tumble in Belfast is another matter. He mentioned other options which does concern me slightly, McGuigan said.
Lee Selby, the Welshman whose defence of his IBF title was cancelled on Friday after Jonathan Barros, the Argentinian, was said to have tested positive for hepatitis, could be a possibility. A subsequent retest was clean leaving Selbys devastated camp looking for answers. They would love to talk with McGuigan.
An all-British encounter would be a fallback option for Frampton though his insistence on meeting Santa Cruz for a third time confirmed where his desires lie. It has to happen again, Frampton said. Leo said he would come to Belfast. He can stay at my house.
This encounter failed to ignite like the one in July last year yet it was enthralling all the same. Drawing Frampton away from his preferred plan, the 29-year-old used his jab to force his opponent into reversing roles.
Santa Cruz landed 81 of 417 jabs while Frampton connected with only 28 of 187. The total punch count read 884 for the Mexican and 592 for the Ulsterman.
The better man won, said Frampton, his face bruised and swollen. I was just too sluggish. He said hed change his style but I didnt believe him. I didnt think he could fight like that. He told me he would use his distance but I thought he was bluffing. I didnt think he could fight like that. Leo has all the tools.
Santa Cruz said: I put it in my mind that, if I lost twice, I would have retired. Youre here to be the best. If he had beat me, what else was I gonna do? Im going to talk to my manager, my promoter and if they want to make a trilogy, lets make it.
Frampton rallied midway through the fight, much to the delight of the travelling support who numbered more than 4,000. But Santa Cruz was not being hurt. Hopes of a knockout receded with every round.