Las Vegas: Leo Santa Cruz reclaimed the WBA featherweight title Saturday night with a majority decision over Carl Frampton.
In their second fight in six months, the 125-pound fighters thrilled the crowd with furious exchanges over a greuelling 12 rounds, with Santa Cruz (33-1-1) avenging his only loss.
Using a punishing jab that often left Frampton (23-1) out of position, Santa Cruz held a 230-133 advantage in punches landed even as Frampton often effectively eluded blows. Santa Cruz delivered another flurry in the 11th round and withstood Frampton's aggression in the 12th.
"I worked hard and I did what I had to do," Santa Cruz said. "Carl Frampton is a great fighter. Like I said, let's get a third fight."
Judge Burt Clements scored the fight 114-114, while Dave Moretti and Glenn Feldman had it 115-113.
"Some of the rounds were close, but I feel that Leo probably deserved it," Frampton said.
In the co-main event, Mikey Garcia (36-0) stopped Dejan Zlaticanin (22-1) in the third round to take the WBC lightweight crown and make him a three-division champion.
The 5-foot-7 Santa Cruz, who was born in Mexico but lives in Los Angeles, had a 7-inch reach advantage over the 5-5 Frampton. But that mattered little in the first fight July 30 in New York, a thriller in which an overly aggressive Santa Cruz threw more than a thousand punches but lost a majority decision in what was considered one of the top bouts of 2016.
Santa Cruz, distracted some by his father and trainer's bone cancer battle, thought the pro-Frampton crowd may have influenced the judges. He wanted the rematch on the West Coast and granted his wish as Jose Santa Cruz's cancer went into remission.
But an estimated 5,000 Irish and British fans made the trip to the Las Vegas Strip, chanting and singing long before the fight began. There appeared to be an even split of fans waving Mexican and Northern Ireland flags in the crowd of 10,085 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Santa Cruz changed his tactics from the first time, using the jab more to leave Frampton off-balance in the early rounds. Frampton, who slipped at the end of the fourth round, absorbed a series of punches to end of the fifth.
Frampton went more to the body in the later rounds as the fighters continued with compelling exchanges that left many ringside observers with conflicting scorecards. CompuBox stats showed Santa Cruz threw 417 jabs, landing 81, while recording 149 power punches to Frampton's 105.
In the earlier fight, Garcia staggered Zlaticanin, the first world champion from Montenegro, with a left uppercut. Garcia then sent him to the canvas with an overhand right that appeared to leave him unconscious. Zlaticanin stayed down for several minutes and was administered oxygen before getting to his feet.
"I got between the ropes and then he hit me with a good, hard punch," said Zlaticanin, who later went to a hospital for tests.
It was the 30th career knockout for Garcia in his second fight following 2 1/2-year layoff due to a promotional dispute with Top Rank. The four-time, three-division champ fought as a junior welterweight in July.
"The layoff allowed me to relight that fire, that passion," Garcia said before adding, "Now that I'm back, I'm available for any other of the champions that want to unify titles."
The card was supposed to feature a third title fight that would perhaps lead to an all-United Kingdom unification bout later this summer.
But Lee Selby's IBF featherweight title defence against Jonathan Victor Barros was cancelled Friday after Barros failed a physical and was denied clearance by the Nevada Athletic Commission. Selby, of Wales, wanted to face the Frampton-Santa Cruz winner and had floated the idea of a potential matchup with Frampton in Belfast.
But Santa Cruz's victory could set up a trilogy fight with Frampton.
"I'm a man of my word. I'm happy to give him a third fight," Santa Cruz said. "We're great fighters. Let's do it again."