Roughly this time last year WBC/WBO junior welterweight/super lightweight champ Terence Crawford was preparing to fight IBF/WBA champ Julius Indongo. On August 19th Crawford knocked out Indongo in the third round to become the undisputed champ at 140. With the victory, Crawford became a two-division titlist, having previously won the WBO lightweight title. He then set his sights on capturing a world title in a third division which he accomplished last month when he took apart Manny Pacquiao conqueror Jeff Horn, stopping him in the ninth round to win the WBO welterweight title.
With Crawford relinquishing his four belts at 140 shortly after beating Indongo, it left a void atop the division in need of a new star to emerge. This year on March 10th, Kiryl Relikh won a 12-round UD over Rances Barthelemy for the vacant WBA super-lightweight belt. The following weekend Jose Ramirez won a 12-round UD over Amir Imam to claim the WBC super-lightweight title. And last month Maurice Hooker won a 12-round SD over former lightweight title holder Terry Flanagan to gain the WBO version of the 140-pound title.
This weekend Regis Prograis 21-0 (18) will defend his Interim WBC super-lightweight belt against Juan Velasco 20-0 (12) at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. Prograis is an overwhelming favorite. Having watched Velasco a few times I don’t think he’s a bad fighter. The problem he’s facing is that Prograis has the potential and may be on his way to becoming a special fighter. No, he doesn’t have Crawford’s upside, due to his style and being more driven by strength and power than sublime skill, but he’s the fighter I’d make the favorite to emerge among the other top fighters at 140, including rising UK sensation Josh Taylor 13-0 (11).
Prograis, 29, has exhibited all the makings of a fighter to watch. He jabs his way in from his southpaw stance and has a nasty left hand to the body that he sends in behind it, often undetected. Regis has finishing power with both hands, his foundation and legs are strong and he fights as the alpha regardless of the fighter in the other corner. He keeps his hands up when he’s working inside and exhibits more than sufficient head and upper-body movement. Along with that his outside feints make him difficult to hit because he’s actively changing things up, sometimes by sticking out his lead hand to bait his opponent into a mistake. And lastly, he cuts the ring off effectively and puts his punches together nice and although his offense isn’t the most imaginative, it’s not entirely predictable either.
As for Velasco, 31, he has an orthodox walk-in style and is a boxer-puncher depending on the opponent. He has decent fundamentals and looks as comfortable leading as he does countering, although I think he’ll have no choice but to give ground against Prograis. Based on what I’ve observed I don’t see him beating Prograis for two reasons….1) he just doesn’t have the arsenal or physicality to deter Regis from fighting anyway he chooses to. Prograis fights as a bully and will quickly sense Velasco can’t hurt him and therefore he’ll crank up the aggression and won’t allow him to box…..and 2) Prograis is really that good. He’s got an abundance of ring applicable strength and he can turn the fight with a single shot from either hand. That alone makes him a problem, but he can also box and he’s difficult to hit clean. And what I like is, he can make his opponents reach or commit offensively without punching first, and that opens them up for his big shots.
With Crawford fighting as a welterweight, the 140-pound division will take a little while to sort itself out, but Prograis has to be the odds-on favorite to pick up the baton and eventually be among the top fighters on the hypothetical pound for pound list. I’ve read where some observers really like Jose Ramirez to surge to the head of the pack at 140. This isn’t a reach. The problem is that Ramirez and Prograis go about settling things in the ring very much alike. Ramirez is also an aggressive fighter who works the body and sets out to wear his opponent down. And that’s pretty close to what Prograis does with the biggest difference being Regis doesn’t wear his opponents down – he beats them down.
One of the ways you can differentiate between them as to who is the bigger puncher is to watch how their opponent reacts to getting hit clean by just one punch. When Ramirez lands clean his opponents usually try to answer back – when Prograis gets through with a meaningful shot, his opponents look to either tie him up by clinching or get away. The last thing they do is attempt to punch with him.
The same applies to unified heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua. Most believe WBC champ Deontay Wilder is the bigger puncher between the two, yet I see his opponents punch back when he does, something I don’t see with Joshua. In his last bout he was forced to go the distance for the first time, but his opponent, Joseph Parker, reacted every time Joshua grazed him. He immediately broke the exchange and grabbed and held Joshua, or tried to float out of range to prevent taking another punch. In Prograis’s last fight, Julius Indongo did the same. After sampling Prograis’s heavy artillery, Julius usually only threw back at him when he felt the risk of return was low. That clearly indicates Prograis’s opponents don’t need to be in the ring with him long to grasp his strength and natural power. Incidentally, Prograis finished Indongo a round sooner than Crawford did, but it’s plausible Indongo’s confidence was shattered by Crawford and he wasn’t quite the same fighter.
Look for Prograis to stop Velasco inside the distance. And once the fight is over he’ll begin to be thought of as mostly being a big puncher. However, that’s selling him short. Prograis is a more sophisticated technician than he’ll get credit for. Regardless of how one chooses to categorize him stylistically, his skill and technique complimented by his schoolyard bully power is what makes him the new alpha dog at 140.
From what I’ve seen, none of the other title holders or contenders in the division could beat Prograis trading one-for-one, nor have I seen any who are strong enough to keep him off of them in order to outbox him.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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