SAN DIEGO, Calif., July 13, 2018 – Since the departure of unified champion Terence “Bud” Crawford to start a new title collection at welterweight, opportunity is calling in the junior welterweight division for rising stars to put their skills to the test, with plenty of prizes up for grabs. No one could be better positioned to take advantage of the circumstances than New Orleans native Regis Prograis.
The colorful 29-year-old unbeaten southpaw (21-0, 18 KOs), nicknamed “Rougarou” after a mythical Cajun/French werewolf creature, can take a big step toward the top on Saturday in a hometown bout at the University of New Orleans against Juan Jose Velasco (20-0, 12 KOs), a 31-year-old from Argentina. It is the first fight for Prograis in his home town since turning professional in 2012.
Junior welterweight division offers opportunity
The winner gets a guaranteed spot in the upcoming World Boxing Super Series tournament in the junior welterweight division. The tournament begins in the fall. Already confirmed competitors include chamion Kiryl Relikh of Belarus and former champion Eduard Troyanovsky in one quarterfinal; Ivan Baranchyk of Russia vs. Anthony Yigit of Sweden in another quarterfinal; plus a pair of undefeated competitors, Ryan Martin of Cleveland and Josh Taylor of Scotland. One other spot remains open.
Boxing observers alreach consider Prograis the odds-on tournament favorite before the opening bell Saturday. It’s indicative of the growing respect for and popularity of Prograis, who has emerged over the last 18 months with a growing reputation. For the first time, Prograis is the “A-side” in a nationally televised main event.
Prograis’s win is nearly a given, so the assessment goes to exactly how he’s able to win. Can he take care of business in a dominating way against the unknown Velasco? Put on a show and make it a quick evening with a flashy win? Or will he slug it out round after round, prevailing but not truly impressing anyone? It can happen with a boxer getting this kind of attention and the pressure that goes with it for the first time.
Will Prograis handle the pressure?
Some athletes thrive under the heat of the spotlight. Some find out when it hits them it’s not what they imagined. Prograis appears to have the confidence, work ethic, and ability to tune out the noise to get the job done.
“I go into every training camp like it’s going to be my hardest fight. I don’t overlook nobody no matter who it is,” says Prograis. “As far as the pressure, I don’t feel no pressure. I just want to go out there and give a good performance because not only is it in New Orleans, it’s on ESPN. So it will probably be the biggest audience to watch me yet. I’m going to go out there, look exciting, and have fun.”
Promoter Lou DiBella, who’s seen a lot of talent come and go over the years, says h’s got confidence Prograis is mature and focused enough to pass this test. “He’s got freaky athletic ability and tremendous punching power in either hand … Regis is a focused guy and he’s really professional in his way of doing things and preparing. He knows what’s at stake. He’s ready.”
Velasco knows where he stands. He says the pressure is all on his opponent, “The pressure is on Regis. I’m not expected to do much,” said Velasco. “Which is fine by me. I’ll prove the experts wrong. I feel like everyone is pulling for him, that’s it’s a gimme fight for Regis. Everyone can talk, but on Saturday, he’ll have to fight.”
Rising lightweight star Teofimo Lopez talks, but can he back it up?
The broadcast undercard offers a highly anticipated lightweight fight between prospect Teofimo Lopez (9-0, 7 KOs) of Las Vegas against William Silva (25-1, 14 KOs) of Brazil. Lopez fought in the 2016 Rio Olympics for Honduras, his parents’ home country.
Lopez is quickly making himself heard in the boxing community thanks to his talent for trash talk, which is already at A-game status. This column yields the floor to the 20-year-old and offers his comments from the final pre-fight week appearances.
At his media workout, Lopez said, “I’m 20 now. I’ll be a world champion by 21,” Lopez said at the Wednesday media workout. “Then I’m going to clean out the 135-pound division. And yeah, I know (Top Rank stablemate) Vasiliy Lomachenko is in my way.”
“This is my last fight as a 20-year-old, and I know that I’m going to put on another great show. ‘The Takeover’ is real, ladies and gentlemen,” Lopez continued. “The dude I’m fighting has never been knocked out, but he’s never seen anyone like me. I just can’t wait for Saturday night, and I have a bunch of tricks up my sleeve that nobody has seen.”
Lopez didn’t restrict the comparisons to NoMasChenko. “This is a good step up. Definitely. Fighting a guy whose only defeat was with Felix Verdejo, and he went the distance with him. At the end of the day, I’m no Felix Verdejo,” promised Lopez the next day at the final news conference. Ouch, another shot at a Top Rank stablemate in the admittedly underwhelming Puerto Rican Verdejo. If he can back it up, we don’t think promoter Bob Arum will mind. Lopez says he lives a clean life and respects the sport – something else Arum should value given the recent antics of Shakur Stevenson, Top Rank’s former Olympic medalist who was recently arrested and released after a street brawl. Keep it all in the ring, guys, and everyone will be much better off.
Saturday’s viewing information
If you are an ESPN+ subscriber, you can watch all undercard fights starting at 4:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. PT, and then switch to the cable broadcast on both ESPN and ESPN Deportes starting at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. ESPN+ offers a free seven-day trial, and it will also allow you to watch the Pacquiao vs. Matthysse fight later on Saturday. It’s $4.99 per month.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is an award-winning boxing journalist covering the Sweet Science for Communities and for boxing fans worldwide. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News.
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