Prograis Title Try Provides Welcome Jolt from Crawford-Spence Coma

It should have been different this week.

Americans should have been welcoming visiting family members while prepping holiday meals and waxing poetic over the latest classic between two high-end, prime welterweights.

After all, sources had suggested a few months back that Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. had done everything but put pen to paper when it came to a November 19 showdown.

So, it seemed set in stone that we’d be carving turkeys and spooning out mashed potatoes while discussing exactly where this year’s duel at 147 pounds would fit alongside the likes of Leonard-Hearns, De La Hoya-Trinidad and Mayweather-Pacquiao.

As it turned out, though, not so much.

Unless you’re a big fan of pithy he said/he said exchanges on social media, the closest we’re going to get to anyone proving divisional supremacy anytime soon is when “Bud” defends his WBO belt against British-based Russian export David Avanesyan in a fight precisely zero people were pinning for.

Aside from defeats of separate guys named Bogdan (Bondarenko and Protsyshyn) and two KOs of the same guy named Kerman (Lejarraga), the most notable items on the 34-year-old’s resume are an unanimous decision over a long past vintage Shane Mosley, then 44, in May 2016 and a similarly wide scorecard loss to a then-reigning Lamont Peterson for the WBA belt nine months later.

Even with all that (cough, cough…) street cred, it’ll be an upset if he sees the second half.

Happily, thanks to Regis Prograis, we may have something to do in the meantime.

And even beyond it.

Not only does “Rougarou” have a fight this weekend that could make him a two-time champion one weight class down at 140 pounds, he’s still angling for the day when he can add a few lbs. and create a super fight of his own if the guys there now won’t do it themselves.

A former WBA claimant now ranked second at super lightweight by the WBC, Prograis will face No. 1 contender Jose Zepeda for a vacant strap in what may be his final turn before climbing the ladder.

He was part of the division’s World Boxing Super Series four years ago and won his title with a KO of Kiryl Relikh before losing it by majority decision to Josh Taylor in the tournament finale.

The shot at Zepeda is for one of the belts Taylor subsequently vacated and comes after three bounce-back KOs for Prograis in which he’s worked a total of 15 rounds against opponents – Juan Heraldez, Ivan Redkach and Tyrone McKenna – who’d entered with a combined record of 61-7-3.

Zepeda, meanwhile, is 0-for-2 in title shots, having lost due to injury after two rounds against Terry Flanagan for the WBO’s lightweight belt in 2015, then by majority nod to Jose Ramirez in 2019 for the WBC strap at 140 that Ramirez subsequently lost to Taylor and Taylor defended once before vacating.

Zepeda, born four months after Prograis in 1989, is 5-0 with a no-contest in his last six fights and will be a worthy test. He’s slotted just two slots beneath Prograis (No. 4 to No. 6) in the Independent World Boxing Rankings and the same gap exists with The Ring, where Prograis is second to Zepeda’s fourth.

But the high man already has his eyes on bigger prizes.

If Crawford can’t come to an agreement to meet his contemporary from Texas, perhaps a neighbor who was born in Louisiana and is now a fellow Lone Star resident would be a suitable foe.

“They’re packed. All those divisions (around where I’m fighting) are packed,” Prograis said.

“That offers a lot of different opponents. Errol Spence is a monster at 147. If it happens, I think it’ll be a real big fight. You can definitely build a story up behind it. We fought in the amateurs. Of course, if I’m at 147, I think that’ll be a fight.”

The southpaws are just less than a year apart in age, and indeed met twice as amateurs, with Spence winning a pair of decisions. Spence stands an inch-and-a-half taller than the 5-foot-8 program and would have a five-inch edge (72 to 67) in reach. Still, because Prograis competed at 152 pounds as an amateur and has been as heavy as 151 pounds as a pro, he senses an opportunity for success.

“I definitely think I can handle the load at 147. I actually think I’ll be really more effective at 147. I’ll probably put on a few pounds of muscle,” he said. “I think I’ll match up good against any one of those guys. I just think I have the skill. Of course, I have the punch. The only thing I will probably need is to make my legs a little stronger so I can absorb the punch they can give me.

“I know I can take a punch from a 147-pound person and even a 154-pound person, because I’m very durable, but I will need to thicken up a little more.”

* * * * * * * * * *

This week’s title fight schedule:

SATURDAY

Vacant WBC super lightweight title – Carson, California

Jose Zepeda (No. 1 WBC/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Regis Prograis (No. 2 WBC/No. 4 IWBR)

Zepeda (35-2, 27 KOs): Third title fight (0-2); Lost previous title shots at 135 (2015) and 140 (2019)

Prograis (27-1, 23 KOs): Third title fight (1-1); Held WBA title at 140 (2019, zero defenses)

Fitzbitz says: Zepeda is longer and leaner and has more fights, but I get the sense that Prograis is closer to the top of the food chain. Not a slam dunk. I simply like him more. Program by decision (75/25)

Last week’s picks: 0-1 (LOSS: Egorov)

2022 picks record: 35-15 (70.0 percent)

Overall picks record: 1,244-407 (75.3 percent)

GRADE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body’s full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.

Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.

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