In 2016, Carl Frampton did exactly what boxing champions should do: He fought other undefeated champions.
In February, he put his IBF super bantamweight belt up for grabs against fellow unbeaten Scott Quigg. Quigg held the “regular” WBA version of the 122-pound world title. As I never fail to mention when the opportunities arise, WBA “regular” titles are not world titles at all, even by the reduced standards of the alphabet soup era.
The WBA world champion at 122 pound was, and remains, Guillermo Rigondeaux. Ideally, he is the fighter Frampton would have faced last year. But I cannot really fault Frampton and his promoters for picking Quigg. Frampton vs. Quigg was the fight boxing fans wanted in the United Kingdom and it was relevant to the top of the division. Frampton walked away with a split decision.
For the second half of the year, Frampton upped the ante and moved to featherweight, where he challenged WBA champion Leo Santa Cruz, arguably the top 126-pound fighter in the world. I expected Santa Cruz to win, using his length advantage against Frampton the same way he had done against Abner Mares. But Frampton executed a brilliant tactical fighter, controlling distance and pace throughout. It was a great, action-packed fight. While the verdict was a majority decision for Frampton, I do not think it was ultimately that close.
Frampton and Santa Cruz are already set to rematch in July. Again, this is a case of Frampton making exactly the fight that deserves to be made. As an undefeated champion who lost a competitive bout, Santa Cruz deserves an immediate rematch if he wants one. Credit Frampton and his team for making it happen.
If Frampton wins again, he will have the potential fights waiting for him to repeat in 2017. A unification fight with IBF featherweight champion Lee Selby would be a great fight for a return to the U.K. A bout with WBC featherweight champion Gary Russel Jr. would help him continue to build his North American reputation.
And ultimately, I have to think Carl Frampton is the fighter who just might have the guts to face Rigondeaux.