This weekend sees a strong boxing main event, a title fight at 140lbs which sees the very talented Regis Prograis, aiming to re-ignite his career after a few years of wasted time, step in against the dangerous veteran Jose Zepeda. It’s a high-level match-up between two fun stylists, so let’s take a look at what we could have in store.
This card is a Fite.tv pay-per-view, and starts at 9PM ET on Saturday.
Prograis’ career has taken a weird turn in the last few years. Back in 2019, he seemed to be on track for the top, and even a loss to Josh Taylor in the 140lb final of the WBSS competition was an excellent fight that lifted the reputation of both men involved. The expectation was that he’d regroup and make another push, either for a rematch or for other titles, and certainly the feeling was that he had the skill set to maybe push his way into p4p contention at some point.
Instead, in the three years since, he’s meandered in a promotional sense, and fought three fights, all ten-rounders against opponents who had no real business being in the ring with him. The kind of fight that you might accept once as a recovery or tune-up has become the norm for him, and not at a fast pace either.
So it’s a relief to see him finally get back to competing at world level as he steps in with Zepeda for the vacant WBC 140lb title this weekend. Zepeda also lost a world title fight back in 2019- to Jose Ramirez- and it’s true that he also has only fought ten rounders since then. However, he’s fought twice as often and the level of competition has been vastly higher than Prograis’, with fights including a solid victory over Joze Pedraza later that same year and a wild, back-and-forth FOTY contender with Ivan Baranczyk in 2020.
The styles should make for an interesting match-up. Both are hands-down, shoulder-rolling southpaw counter-punchers, by preference, but approach that blueprint in different ways that will hopefully mesh well. Of the two, Zepeda has the more clearly-defined primary game-plan- using a fairly upright stance, he edges forward with jabs and feints, looking to draw a response from his opponent. When they make a move towards him, he leans or slides back, and looks to catch them coming in with single hard lefts. We saw a picture-perfect example of this in his last fight, a first round KO over Josue Vargas, but you see him use variations of the move throughout his fights.
Don’t confuse the simplicity for being basic, though: he approaches with a lot of variety in the timing and angle of both his jab and follow-up, as well as the distance and direction of his escapes. Sometimes, instead of retreating, he’ll pivot around his opponent and look to clip them as they turn to follow. And although fighting with his hands as low as he does comes with drawbacks, it makes it much harder for opponents to judge the angle of his shots as he throws them. He’s also capable of boxing on the back-foot if necessary – it’s not his preference because he’s less comfortable with less control of the timing, but it does mean more opportunity to catch his man moving too, so he’s still dangerous when forced to do it.
As hinted above, Prograis’ approach tends to be more varied, and more adjustable depending on what the opponent in front of him brings to the table. Sometimes, he does something fairly similar to what we see from Zepeda – steady approach, lots of feints, blasting counters when an opponent bites. Others, he’s almost unreasonably aggressive, but technically so, closing distance very rapidly behind solid proactive head movement and then throwing heavy punches from unusual angles. But then, when he feels the need, he’s also more than comfortable simply stepping off and boxing entirely as an outfighter, using lateral movement well and playing touch-and-move against chasing opponents.
That variety does mean the odds in the fight probably lean towards Prograis, since although Zepeda has a well-structured game which hides his weaknesses well, they are there, and Prograis has the tools to use multiple ways to get at them. The most obvious thing to target would be something that the Baranczyk fight- despite the win- made clear: Zepeda’s defence is very heavily based on distance management, and if an opponent can break his feel for the range, they can do damage. Baranczyk did so mostly by being quite crude, almost short-circuiting Zepeda’s calculations by just consistently swinging big looping shots while leaping in at him. That scored him four knockdowns in five rounds, but it also saw him knocked down four times (seriously, if you haven’t seen that fight, go watch it)on route to a brutal KO, so it isn’t necessarily a viable approach: but what Prograis might be able to do is, in a way, recreate that crudeness with technique.
As mentioned, he can close distance in a flash when he needs to, but unlike Baranczyk he’s controlled when he does so, and when he gets in close he can take his head off-line and throw punches from some frankly rather ludicrous angles, made possible by keeping a very stable base with his feet. In that way, he might circumvent Zepeda’s defences by coming around them in a similar way, without walking through fire as much himself.
Or, if he decides that’s still too much risk, he might use that circular movement at distance to circle Zepeda, who although he can vary the angle he chooses to move out at, tends to be pretty straight-lined once he starts. If he needs to be turning with his opponent constantly, he might find himself out of shape, leaving Prograis avenues for punishment that aren’t there on straight-lined approaches. All this needs to be done with care, because the explosive movements Prograis uses are potentially vulnerable to the type of counters Zepeda likes, but Prograis hasn’t been notably careless too often before, so the advantages do point his way.
One more thing to note, and another potential advantage to Prograis, is that Zepeda has a history of fading slightly in fights- never to the point of completely blowing, but both his loss to Jose Ramirez a few years ago and that win over Pedraza were marked by the opponent coming on strong late in the fight. That might be countered by Prograis’ inactivity in recent years, but if he can keep a constant pressure, he could find things working later in the fight that weren’t in play earlier on.
To sum up, then, the battle is this: Zepeda really needs to tempt Prograis into falling into the middle distance, and he really needs his jab to be strong. The more he can do that, the more risks Prograis will have to take to get his game going. Prograis, on the other hand, needs to poke and prod Zepeda out of shape, and do so patiently but constantly.
What’s on the undercard?
The undercard doesn’t boast any major stars, but the are a few points of interest. The co-main is a women’s two-belt light-flyweight title fight, as Yokasta Valle steps up from minimumweight, where she held the IBF and WBO titles, to challenge Evelin Nazarena Bermudez for the same two belts in the division above. It should be a fun scrap between two high-volume fighters. Beyond that, there’s a number of prospects and rising fighters, including Tokyo super-heavyweight gold medallist Bakhodir Jalolov looking to make his next step in the pro game, and light-middlweight Charles Conwell, a formerly blue-chip prospect whose career has stalled in the aftermath of the tragic death of Charles Day in their fight in 2019, but who’ll be hoping to show he belongs at world level with a win against the hugely experienced Juan Carlos Abreu.
How To Stream
Zepeda vs. Prograis will air online via FITE.tv. The cost for both services is the same at $49.99.
Fite.tv can be viewed on the following devices:
All major modern browsers including Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Edge.
Mobile devices and tablets
Install the FITE app from the iOS App Store, Android Google Play or Amazon.
Vidaa or VEWD via Hisense TV and selected TiVO boxes
Vizio SmartCast TVs
Netgem Set-Top Box
AT&T TV Device
Gaming consoles and streaming devices
Amazon Fire TV
Xfinity Flex and X1 TV Box
Live news, updates and round-by-round commentary is available here on Bloody Elbow.
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