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NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: PROGRAIS VS. TAYLOR - A SUPERFIGHT WHEN IT MATTERS

By Paul Magno | November 05, 2018
NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: PROGRAIS VS. TAYLOR - A SUPERFIGHT WHEN IT MATTERS

To fans, a “superfight” is all about two elite-level fighters meeting when it competitively matters most—in their physical primes where a victory literally means everything to both careers. To boxing businessmen, a “superfight” is an elite-level fight that is ripe for bringing in a shitload of money. 

More and more, the two definitions of “superfight” do not overlap. Rarely will you see a Leonard-Hearns clash these days where the biggest fight is also the best, most important fight in the division. What usually happens now when two prime, elite-level fighters exist in the same weight class is the following—a wall is built between them, bank accounts are fattened all around while the two fighters take on lesser competition and endlessly hype the BIG fight until it either does eventually become a major windfall event or, much more likely, it disintegrates completely and becomes one of the long list of fights the should’ve, could’ve happened but never did.

That dynamic may change, though—at least for one fight.

Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis are the two best junior welterweights in the world, they’re both just entering into their competitive primes, and best of all for fans, they are on a guaranteed collision course thanks to the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) 140 lb. tournament. 

Scotland’s Taylor dominated Ryan Martin last Saturday at The SSE Hydro Arena in Glasgow, stopping the American in seven one-sided rounds to move ahead in the WBSS tournament. The mega-talented 27-year-old southpaw moves on to face IBF champion Ivan Baranchyk next in the semifinals.

And while Taylor’s first world title shot is a humongous deal for the now 14-0 Taylor, fans should be more excited that Taylor-Prograis is one step closer. 

Last Saturday at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, the 29-year-old Prograis dismantled UK former world champ Terry Flanagan over 12 dominant rounds to take his own step forward in the WBSS tourney. The New Orleans native will now meet Kiryl Relikh in the semifinals with the winner moving on to face the winner of Taylor-Baranchyk in the finals. 

"Everyone is calling for me to fight Prograis,” Taylor told ESPN prior to the Martin fight. “A lot of people want to see that fight and it would be absolutely brilliant if we met each other in the final.”

"...Prograis is the one people are talking about. This has come at the perfect time in my career as I'm coming into my own now."

The 23-0 Prograis, meanwhile, has admitted to being convinced of Taylor’s “for-real” status after the Scottish Olympian’s win over Viktor Postol this past June. But he’s still not entirely sold on Taylor’s ability to dazzle his way to the tournament finals.

“I pick Ivan Baranchyk to beat Josh Taylor,” Prograis told Boxingscene. “Just because he’s real serious. After the pairing, we all went out to eat together – Baranchyk and his team and his manager. And he said, ‘Me and you are gonna be in the final.’ And we kind of toasted to it."

While the Taylor-Prograis trash talk game at this point won’t sell many tickets, the quality of this pairing should have all real fight fans brimming with anticipation. 

Both undefeated young stars are spectacular physical specimens with the reflexes and athleticism to instantly place them among the elite 1% in the sport. They’ve also shown in recent fights the ability to box and to apply pro-level smarts during high-end contests. 

The winner of the Taylor-Prograis bout will not only establish an undisputed junior welterweight champ, but it will also launch one fighter into next-level stardom. If the fight is good enough, maybe BOTH get launched into next-level stardom. 

In boxing these days, with so much business mucking up the fighters’ actual fights, it’s exceedingly rare for someone to become a true star on the merit of star-making performances against even money opposition. It’s even rarer when a young star’s breakthrough fight is actually the best fight to be made in the division.

Of course, one solid challenge stands before each, but if Taylor and Prograis truly are special, they should be able to deal with Baranchyk and Relikh.

A lot of space in this weekly column is devoted to what’s wrong in boxing and to what’s keeping the best from the best, but this whole Taylor-Prograis countdown bucks decades of negative trends. 

It might be just one fight and it probably won’t be the blockbuster it could’ve been if it had been shamelessly teased to fans over the course of years, but there’s something to be said for making an event that’s more understated brilliance than cynical cash grab. 

And, who knows, maybe the rays of positivity coming from this young gun, best vs. best clash will inspire similar pairings. There has to be faith that if things are done right, with the fans being rewarded with good, challenging, and meaningful matchups rather than bilked through hype and deceit, the big money will still be there. And with that big money, there will be more loyal fans willing to be long term loyal consumers.

Quick (S)hits:

-- Abel Sanchez-trained Ryan Martin had no plan A (or plan B or C) against Josh Taylor in Saturday’s WBSS 140 lb. quarter final bout. It was an embarrassingly poor performance from a gifted fighter who was clearly overmatched and ill-prepared for the task at hand. One wonders whether Martin had any guidance coming into this fight. Maybe Sanchez was too busy counting his GGG cash to show the kid some fight footage. This kind of falling-flat-on-your-face performance can crush the confidence of a young fighter. Hopefully, Martin can take this as a learning lesson, rebound, and come back stronger. He has the ability to offer some nice challenges at 140. 

-- The showcasing of Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis these last couple of weeks makes Jose Ramirez’s isolation from the junior welter fracas all the more disappointing. Ramirez may not be as talented as Taylor or Prograis, but he’s good enough and tenacious enough to definitely belong in the conversation of who’s best at 140. Instead, Ramirez will stand on the sidelines, fighting the “best available” through TR/ESPN matchmakers.

-- Nonito Donaire fought well Saturday in Glasgow in a quarter final bout of the WBSS bantamweight tournament, but was definitely aided by the terrible bad luck of defending WBA bantamweight titlist Ryan Burnett, who reportedly slipped a disk while throwing a punch and had to retire from the bout. The 35-year-old Donaire not only captured yet another world title, but he also advances to the semifinals to meet Zolani Tete. The winner of Donaire-Tete will then meet the winner of Naoya Inoue vs. Emmanuel Rodriguez. “The Filipino Flash” did look sharp and if he can maintain the lower weight while holding on to his power, he might make some real waves at 118.

-- WBC super featherweight champ Miguel Berchelt had a tougher time than expected against the now 3-time unsuccessful world title challenger Miguel Roman Saturday night in El Paso, Texas. In the end, though, he was just all-around better than his challenger and walked away with a ninth-round TKO. At times, the fight was hard to watch and the corresponding TV commentary was tough to listen to as the crew gushed over Roman’s toughness as he was being battered. 

And while toughness is certainly a virtue in the sport, there’s always a little bit of me saying that skill and defense would’ve been much more of a laudable asset in a pug like Roman. When Roman is a retired 40-something or 50-something ex-fighter struggling to tie his own shoes or recall his own address, these lovers of bravado will be nowhere around. 

Got something for Magno? Send it here: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com

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