Regis Prograis ready to defend his belt against Juan Jose Velasco

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Regis Prograis doesn’t seek out video of his opponents and doesn’t want to know much about them before they fight. Prograis, the WBC’s interim super lightweight champion, believes it allows him to make the adjustments he needs based on what is actually happening in front of him and not what went on in the past.

He’ll defend his belt Saturday in his native New Orleans against unbeaten but largely unknown Argentine Juan Jose Velasco. It should have been a title unification bout with newly minted WBC champion Jose Ramirez, but Top Rank, Ramirez’s promoter, wanted no part of that fight.

It wanted Ramirez to be able to make his first title defense – and win it – in front of a friendly home crowd in Fresno, California. Ramirez built himself into a bankable attraction in Fresno, thanks to his work and that of his manager, Rick Mirigian, a tireless and oft-brilliant hustler who preaches the gospel of Ramirez to anyone who will listen in Central California.

Ramirez was to have defended his belt last week against Danny O’Connor, but O’Connor got dehydrated during his weight cut and collapsed and was yanked from the fight. So now, Ramirez will defend instead against Antonio Orozco in what should be an entertaining fight if it happens. The issue with that fight is that Orozco also has a history of missing weight.

Prograis has no such problems and would have made for an explosive and entertaining match with Ramirez. Top Rank, which was calling the shots because Ramirez is the bigger draw, didn’t want to risk seeing a potential star get knocked off in his first defense.

There is a need in boxing now to build fights up, because promoters over the years have harmed the sport so much it doesn’t have the luster other sports do. If they had spent the past several decades matching guys like Ramirez and Prograis regularly, they could have made this fight without worrying about building it. The sport would have been healthier and the fighters would have been making more all along.

Prograis will join the World Boxing Super Series’ super lightweight tournament if he defeats Velasco, and part of it is because of decisions like the one Top Rank made to have Ramirez bypass him.

“My plans are to go into the tournament [the WBSS], because it’s the best fighting the best,” Prograis said. “In professional boxing, you can be a champion, but you don’t have to fight the number one contender. You could fight No. 20 or something and be OK. They try to milk the title as long as they can. That’s the whole problem with it now, people not fighting who they’re supposed to fight.”

WBC interim super lightweight champion Regis Prograis defends his belt in New Orleans this weekend. (Getty Images)

There aren’t many fighters quite like Prograis. There aren’t many who can fight like him, nor are there many who are as thoughtful, introspective, well-read and accommodating as he is.

Prograis is 29 years old and should be a household name by now. He’s still building himself, though, despite tremendous punching power, a complete game and the kind of personality that attracts people to him.

Plop him in a time capsule and bring him out in the 1970s and he’d have been a staple on Wide World of Sports, fighting the biggest names and long since having become a mainstream star.

Instead, the promoters of the champion in his division viewed him as too much of a threat and allowed him to go elsewhere despite the kind of action a bout between them would have brought.

Prograis is in a lot of ways like his idol, Manny Pacquiao, who will challenge Lucas Matthysse on Sunday (Saturday in the U.S.) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for a version of the WBA welterweight title. The Pacquiao-Matthysse fight will air on the ESPN+ streaming service immediately following ESPN television’s broadcast of Prograis-Velasco.

Prograis will hustle to get to a computer or a phone to be able to watch Pacquiao. He’s a boxing historian of sorts and has great admiration for Pacquiao, and still holds out hope they’ll be able to fight.

“I really do think so,” Prograis said when asked if he thought Pacquiao could be in his future. “I really think a me-and-Pacquiao fight could be a potential matchup one day. It might even be after this. You never know. You never know [how] things will go. I think that I could get a Pacquiao fight or even a [Vasiliy] Lomachenko fight, maybe even after this. It depends on what the fans think and the promoters want to do.”

Prograis said he doesn’t study future opponents, but he carefully watches the best in boxing history. When asked who he’d put on the Mount Rushmore of boxing, he gave five names — Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, Joe Louis and Floyd Mayweather — because he couldn’t stop at four.

He said he’s paid close attention to Pacquiao’s career and has a theory why Pacquiao has gone nearly nine years without a knockout. He said he’s watched all of Pacquiao’s fights since the time Pacquiao was knocked out in a flyweight title fight in 1999.

He said, “Pacquiao is like a God in my eyes,” but quickly added, “He’s not the fighter he used to be.

“It’s a combination of things, but he’s getting older and Father Time will always catch up with you,” Prograis said. “You’ve got to answer to Father Time eventually. He does a lot of things [outside the ring] and after the [Juan Manuel] Marquez knockout, when Marquez put him to sleep real bad, I think that took a lot out of him, too.

“His killer instinct isn’t there anymore and he’s involved with too many things. It’s Pacquiao, but at the same time, it’s Father Time. Pacquiao in his time was just destroying people.”

That’s what Prograis has done so far in his young pro career. If he got himself to anywhere near where Pacquiao did, it would be a remarkable run.

He’s one of the few with the boxing skills and the punching power who could do what Pacquiao has done.

Fans on Saturday will get a chance to compare the two men as they perform in separate bouts. Chances are good that, at this point in there careers, it will be a favorable comparison for Prograis.

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