IGNORE what Dereck Chisora has to say about Saturday’s (October 26) World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) super-lightweight final between Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis at London’s O2 Arena. Forget the fact that Taylor and Prograis are not big men or big names, and forget, too, what Chisora said about the Muhammad Ali trophy, the prize for the victor, and the WBSS tournament as a whole. Because, where this fight is concerned, Chisora is right in only one respect: Taylor vs. Prograis is completely at odds with current trends – thankfully.
It features two talented and respectful individuals focused solely on success and has been made on the basis of competition rather than due to some manufactured rivalry. It is a fight, not a personality contest, a throwback to how things used to be. It recalibrates the hype-substance scale and gives hope to those who refuse to sell their soul and join the circus. Best of all, it comes at a time when fights like this are very much needed.
As well as all those things, Taylor vs. Prograis will go some way to deciding the number one super-lightweight in the world, which, in itself, makes it more important and meaningful than most fights in Britain this year. (Only Jose Carlos Ramirez, the WBC and WBO champion at 140 pounds, can dispute the winner’s right to the throne.)
This battle of southpaws also feels perfectly timed, coming as it does when both Taylor and Prograis are in possession of titles and unbeaten records. Combined, they are 39-0 as pros. Taylor, 15-0 (12), holds the IBF version of the super-lightweight crown and Prograis, 24-0 (20), boasts the WBA version. They both have scope to improve – Taylor is 28, Prograis is 30 – but, refreshingly, the fact they have time on their side and are just starting out as world champions hasn’t been used as a barricade to prevent a natural fight from happening. Instead, thanks to the WBSS and the two fighters’ go-getting mentality, we are being delivered a fight between champions in their athletic primes, the appeal of which owes everything to their ambition and unblemished records.
At this stage, with neither man suffering a loss as a pro, they behave as if immune to defeat. They take risks. They believe they are the best. They have yet to be suffocated by self-doubt or stalled by setback. It’s refreshing, this blissful ignorance, and the air of invincibility they share creates intrigue.
“This fight proves who the true number one is,” said Taylor. “I believe it is myself, he believes it is him. I do believe we are the two best in the division. He likes to blow smoke up his own behind and believe his own hype. I let him do his talking. I do my talking in the ring, so we’ll see on the night.”
“You’ve got the number one and number two,” added Prograis. “Two undefeated fighters and they’re in their prime and champions. Sometimes you might get champions but they’re not number one and number two and we have all these belts on the line. You don’t often get that in boxing. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Regis Prograis is the number one super-lightweight in the world, according to Regis Prograis. Josh Taylor, meanwhile, is the number one super-lightweight in the world, according to Josh Taylor. Saturday should give us a more objective and hopefully irrefutable take on the matter.
For now, the pair are hard to separate. Their records are boosted by similar wins and their title reigns are both just getting started. In an ideal world, if wanting to be picky, perhaps the two of them would make a few defences, truly establish themselves as world champions, and then build towards this unification clash in good time. But boxing is far from an ideal world and often the wisest path to take is the one clearly signposted.
What’s more, such is their rate of progress, both champions have done a lot of their learning ahead of becoming titleholders – you know, the old-fashioned way – and are now, if not finished articles, certainly hurtling towards their respective peaks.
Taylor, on the way up, proved his mettle with a brilliant win against fellow British prospect Ohara Davies in 2017 and then claimed the scalp of former IBF lightweight champion Miguel Vazquez in his next fight. Both fights ended inside the distance and both revealed champion traits in Taylor long before he got his hands on his world title. The former showed he could stay composed in the heat of a bitter, ill-tempered rivalry, whereas the latter was a reminder that experience can be trumped by youthful vigour. Together, these performances were enough to convince many Taylor was a future world champion.
Be that as it may, Taylor shocked even his own fans when deciding to take on former WBC super-lightweight champion Viktor Postol in June 2018. A sizeable gamble, Taylor maintained the belief he was good enough to ace the test, then duly delivered on the night, edging the well-schooled Ukrainian in a close, dramatic fight.
What followed that breakout performance was his first appearance in the WBSS, a seventh-round knockout of American Ryan Martin, unbeaten in 22 fights going in. That wasn’t the toughest fight of Taylor’s career, yet the manner of victory, and the fact he was determined to stop an overmatched opponent, said a lot about the Scotsman’s mentality and no-nonsense approach.
This mindset also paid dividends during Taylor’s WBSS semi-final against Ivan Baranchyk. It allowed him to stand his ground with the barrel-chested Belarusian, not cower to his aggression, and ultimately drop him twice in the sixth round en route to a decision win. Baranchyk, like Martin and Davies, was undefeated before Taylor sussed him out and nabbed his IBF title.
It could be said there’s a theme emerging. It could be said Taylor isn’t just adept at spoiling unbeaten records but can quickly figure out styles and adapt his own accordingly. Take your pick: he can either press forward and operate effectively on the front foot or he can use his height, reach and spiteful straight punches to excel from a distance. It simply depends on the opponent.
Seemingly his preference, though, is to beat an opponent at their own game and leave them fishing for Plan B. This is a testament to Taylor’s hard-nosed attitude and the depth of his skillset and, on Saturday, against the best opponent of his four-year pro career, the ‘Tartan Tornado’ will attempt to deal with a new style the way he dealt with all the others.
“I’m feeling confident,” he said. “I am too big for him, too tall for him and too quick for him. Size will be a telling factor in this fight.
“I think I can beat him in every department. If he tries to walk me down, I’ll walk him into a shot and get him out of there. If not, I can outbox him for the full 12 rounds. So, I’m fully confident I can win this fight either way it goes.”
If it’s size and versatility Taylor has in his favour, Prograis isn’t far behind in either department. At 5’8, he is two inches shorter than Taylor, with a reach two inches shorter, but Prograis, like Taylor, has a knack of making the most of his attributes and dragging opponents into his kind of fight.
“All his 15 fights look the same and all mine look different,” argued the American. “My style will prove to be the better one. He gets hit a lot and I can do so many different things.”
Prograis, too, has a fondness for taking unbeaten records. Amos Cowart and Abel Ramos were unbeaten when Prograis stole their zeroes in 2015 and so were Joel Diaz Jnr and Juan Jose Velasco, a pair handed reality checks in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
More impressive, though, are his other wins. In March 2018, he floored Julius Indongo once in the first round and three times in the second ahead of a second round TKO, which announced Prograis’ arrival as a force, while a solid 12-round decision over Terry Flanagan in his WBSS quarter-final suggested he can outwork fighters known for industry.
This set up his semi-final victory over Kiryl Relikh, a WBA champion carved up and punished by Prograis inside six rounds. Operating primarily on the back foot, Prograis was patient that night, content to set traps and chip away at the Belarusian until he resembled a beaten man.
That seems to be the Prograis way. Calm, composed and methodical, his counterpunching ability is augmented by a natural thirst for scrapping and an all-round fearlessness. When he spots an opening, he goes for it with gusto.
“Everybody I’ve fought has said that it is going to be an even fight, but I dominate,” he said. “I have blown everybody away.
“He is taller than me and longer than me but for me none of that stuff matters. I can’t see how he can beat me. Not to be cocky or arrogant, but I can’t see it. I’m super-confident. It’s just how I feel.”
The last time Prograis fought a 5’10 southpaw with longer arms, he attacked Julius Indongo with the intensity the job required. Gone was the patience of old, replaced instead by small steps to get close, hurtful body shots, and an emphasis on suffocating Indongo whenever he sought refuge. It worked perfectly that night in March 2018, and one suspects Prograis will need to adopt a similar game plan on Saturday.
If the fight in London becomes a slow-paced staring contest, Taylor has the poise and physical attributes to stay a step ahead. If, however, Prograis can get creative on the inside and employ unorthodox moves to damage rather than frustrate, there’s every possibility he presents Taylor with angles and shots he has yet to encounter in his pro career. It’s here, in these areas, “Rougarou” can capitalise on the tenacity he has in spades and make use of his physical strength.
Chances are, he will get his moments, too, because Taylor isn’t the type to make things easy on himself, nor short-change the crowd in pursuit of a clean victory. His desire will be to beat Prograis on the inside and outside. He will be content only when an impression has been made. He will want noise in the arena, not silence. This adaptability and eagerness to please could leave Taylor susceptible to counters and offer Prograis openings. Yet these factors are also what make him such an efficient and hard-to-read opponent – good to watch, horrible to fight. Both people-pleaser and thinking man’s fighter, the Scot has developed a winning habit and is winning fights with room to spare and gears unused. He’ll need fifth on Saturday, no doubt, but if it’s there when called upon Taylor can accelerate down the stretch and make off with three things: a hard-earned decision, Prograis’ belt and the Muhammad Ali trophy.