Regis Prograis has long been one of the most exciting fighters in boxing. He's a knockout puncher who isn't afraid to test his own chin to get inside and try to impose his will upon his opponent.
He's also one of boxing's good guys, an easy-to-like personality who is well-read, well-traveled and eager to chat on just about any subject. This is the kind of guy boxing needs more of, but he's a one-of-a-kind.
Somehow, though, it's been 37 months since Prograis last fought for a world title. He lost a majority decision to Josh Taylor in London on Oct. 26, 2019, in a battle for three of the four 140-pound titles.
Since then, he's fought what amounts to three tuneup bouts and is only fighting Jose Zepeda for the vacant WBC super lightweight belt on Saturday because of a bit of rare good luck. The WBC ordered Jose Ramirez and Prograis to fight for the title, but Ramirez had to pull out because he was married in October and wouldn't train properly.
Taylor, who went on to win the undisputed title after edging Prograis, was also offered a bout in the fourth quarter of this year against Prograis but he, too, was getting married. So Prograis will instead face Zepeda in the main event of a pay-per-view card available on Fite TV and PPV.com at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.
"Dudes out here signing pre-nups to avoid fighting me," Prograis said.
The hardest thing to understand in all of this is why it took 37 months for Prograis to get another title shot. He clearly is one of the best in the division and has been for a long time. He's 27-1 with 23 knockouts and is one of the most fan-friendly fighters in the business.
Zepeda, too, is a fan-friendly fighter and his fifth-round KO over Ivan Baranchyk on Oct. 3, 2020, at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas is a classic. Both men were down four times in the five rounds, and Baranchyk left the ring on a stretcher.
Prograis respects Zepeda but he's also confident in his ability to box. He's typecast as a power puncher because of his 82% knockout ratio, but he's also an outstanding boxer. He comes to knock his opponent silly, if it's possible, but he has that ability to box and move if needed.
Zepeda is an excellent counterpuncher, but Prograis believes that will play into his hands.
"Zepeda can’t let me hit him too much in this fight if he’s trying to set traps," Prograis said. "If I can find him I don’t think it’s going to be good for him. I don’t fight to box. I fight to hurt people. In my last three fights, I didn’t get hit and I got all three knockouts.
“This is what I really, really love [to do], to fight. [I really] love the world title and the money, but I really love getting in the ring on fight night."
The division is stacked with elite talent beyond Prograis and Zepeda. Taylor won the undisputed championship, but surrendered two of them. Ramirez is a former champion and former undisputed lightweight champion. Teofimo Lopez is now campaigning at 140 pounds. Jack Catterall, whom many believe deserved the victory over Taylor when they fought in February, is still in the division.
Undisputed lightweight champion Devin Haney doesn't have much longer in his division and likely will be moving up to 140 not long after he defends his belt next year against Vasiliy Lomachenko. Ryan Garcia and Gervonta Davis are going to fight at 136 pounds in April 2023, so they've become super lightweights, as well. It all means there are plenty of options for a fighter with a title.
So if Prograis can get the win on Saturday and come out with a belt, it will put him in position to face some of those big names. Prograis is a competitive sort who has done extensive research on boxing history and understands what it means to a fighter's legacy to face the best.
He believes he defeated Taylor three years ago, but this is his second opportunity to prove he's the best in his class.
"When people introduce me, they do so as 'the former champ,' but I want to be the current champion, and not only that, I want to be known as the best in the world in my division,” Prograis said. “That is even more important to me than being a champion, it's to be the best in the world in my division. There will always be debates, but after Saturday, my name will be really, really high on the list. You have other fighters that are good, but I think after Saturday, my name should be at the top of the 140-pound list."