FROM STEVE BRENNER IN NEW YORK
After the drama came the tears.
As Carl Frampton was crowned WBA featherweight champion of the world after a display of incomprehensible courage to secure a majority points decision against the excellent Léo Santa Cruz, ringside emotions were laid bare.
The 29-year-old was lifted into the air by Shane McGuigan, whose expert tutelage and guidance as his trainer should not be overlooked on yet another red-letter evening for British and Northern Irish boxing.
For his manager Barry McGuigan, however, it simply became too much. The belt that he lost to Steve Cruz under the Las Vegas sun 30 years ago was now around the waist of his beloved Frampton.
History too had been made: the first Northern Irishman to be crowned champion in two weight divisions is a little pocket rocket known as the “Jackal”.
The prayers of hope delivered by the legendary McGuigan as the three judges deliberated at the end of 12 absorbing rounds were answered.
Frank Lombardi (116-112) and Tom Schreck (117-111) gave it to Frampton and even though Guido Cavalleri decreed the contest to be a 114-114 draw, this was an evening that will be forever seared into the memory of the Ulsterman and his team.
“I was so emotional because I wanted this kid to win so badly, “ McGuigan Sr said. “I wanted him to be in a fight which would be remembered. Sure I wanted him to win my old title but I wanted it to be a sensational fight and it turned out to be just that.
“It was amazing, fight-of-the-year material.
“I want people to talk about him the way they talk about me 30 years after he retires. I had the fight with [Eusebio] Pedroza and even the Cruz one was good. This, though, was phenomenal.
“It was a great performance against a great fighter, a three-time champ.
“The feeling of pride really is something else. I am so proud of Carl and also of my son.
“He’s just 27 years old and his tactics have been sublime. I cannot wait to listen back to the fight and see what was being said in the corner because they have an unbelievable relationship. He has the most incredible trust in him.
As thoughts turned to absent loved ones, McGuigan’s voice cracked.
“I know my brother in heaven was sitting on my shoulder willing this to happen, “ he said.
“He knew how important this was to me, and my father is up there too. I was praying to him, to keep Carl out of danger.
“They will be partying with the angels tonight.”
With Frampton hiring out a bar in Manhattan yesterday to thank the loyal fans who turned the volume up in New York towards raucous Belfast proportions, the good times would have been rolling deep into the night too.
And why not? It was such a compelling contest that every one of the 9,000 here needed something to calm down.
“I have never been so nervous at a sporting event,” said Rory McIlroy, who made the short trip from the US PGA Championship in Baltusrol, New Jersey, to cheer on his fellow countryman. “I’m just so glad he got the win.”
Frampton was acutely aware of the incredible punching ability of Santa Cruz and had vowed not to become embroiled in the kind of toe-to-toe affair that would suit the Mexican down to the ground.
The 29-year-old, however, did not stick to the script. His fighting instinct took over.
By halfway, the Ulsterman had stretched out a strong lead — his movement and the crispness of his punching close in left Santa Cruz ,the taller and rangier fighter, flat-footed and swinging far earlier than anticipated.
The cleaner, more impressive, incisive work came from the hands of Frampton, whose defensive capabilities beautifully complemented his attacking prowess.
“He fought him far too early in my honest opinion. In the second or third round he started trading with him,” Shane McGuigan said.
“He could have made it way easier than that but he’s here to entertain. That’s what he likes to do.”
Many here had not given Frampton a chance, such was the respect on offer for Santa Cruz, a three-division title winner who had not tasted defeat in his 33 previous fights.
Yet as the bout was roared to the most dramatic of denouements, anyone doubting the father of two, whose young children and wife were ringside, were abruptly forced to raise their hands in appreciation to a fighter McGuigan believes will become “the greatest Irish boxer of all-time”.
The statistics were quite remarkable and graphically illustrated why both fighters spoke afterwards with reddened, bruised faces. Santa Cruz threw 1,002 punches and connected with 25.4 per cent while Frampton’s rate of 36.2 per cent came from landing 242 of 668. Of the combined power shots from both, 402 from 497 hit the spot.
“This is going to be a fight that defines part of my career. I want to be involved in big fights and I’ve just made history,” said Frampton, who will now enjoy some time with his family in New York City before plotting the future. “The dream was always to become a world champion and once you do that you start having new dreams. I reached my goal of becoming a world champion and then I wanted to become a two-weight world champion.
“It’s just going up and up. When I get home, I think it will hit me a bit more. But I’m just a normal working-class guy who can fight a wee bit. That’s it.”
A new title, history rewritten and a strong contender for understatement of the year.