DAZN delivers another WBSS weekend
Where quality content is concerned, in terms of match-ups and storylines, nobody has outperformed the World Boxing Super Series over the last year. The second edition of the WBSS has expanded to three divisions, with the bantamweight and junior welterweight divisions added to a cruiserweight division that gets the royal treatment for a second time. This Saturday’s WBSS event (9 p.m. ET on the DAZN app) features a doubleheader in its junior welterweight tourney. Headlining is many boxing experts No.1-rated 140-pounder Regis Prograis, 22-0 (19), who takes on the challenge of former lightweight champion Terry Flanagan, 33-1 (13). The co-main event features Russian pressure maven Ivan Baranchyk, 18-0 (11), facing slippery Swedish prospect Anthony Yigit, 21-0-1 (7). In terms of styles, the foursome is as diverse a headlining group as could be on any card.
The bouts are aired on the DAZN app; DAZN wisely picked up the WBSS after last year’s stellar series produced an undisputed cruiserweight champion (Oleksandr Usyk) and established a Ring Magazine champion (Callum Smith) at super middleweight. Saturday marks the fourth of six consecutive weeks in which a WBSS event is staged on DAZN. This edition sees Regis Prograis get the hometown treatment, returning to his New Orleans stomping grounds, at the Lakefront Arena. Prograis literally has the city’s name tattooed across his chest and is eager to please his fans, “I’m very excited to fight again at home in New Orleans. It was very important to come back and fight here at home. I definitely want to keep pushing New Orleans as a great boxing town, not just for me but for all the local fighters. My goal now is to be like a franchise in New Orleans, like the Pelicans or the Saints.”
Prograis faces off against southpaw Terry Flanagan and the Englishman will want redemption after suffering his first loss to American Maurice Hooker in his debut at 140 pounds. It was a surprising split decision setback for Flanagan; he was favored by oddsmakers on both sides of the Atlantic but one Prograis has chosen to ignore. Prograis chose Flanagan (the WBSS tourney allows the highest-rated boxer to pick his opening round foe) because he sees Flanagan as the second-best boxer in the tourney, “I wanted to pick the harder fight and that’s why I went with Flanagan. I wasn’t looking for an easy opponent. He’s a former world champion and I wanted to fight the toughest among those available for me to choose.” The Louisiana native jumped at the opportunity to be part of the WBSS tourney, viewing it as a path to big money showdowns against boxers aligned with the major promoters.
The WBSS spotlight and marketing power did wonders for Oleksandr Usyk and Callum Smith in the last cycle. Usyk, for instance, was elevated into a multi-million dollar showdown with Tony Bellew in December. The way Prograis has gone about his business, stopping his last seven opponents, seemingly improving with every fight, despite the rising level of opposition, should assure a worldwide fan base, given DAZN is established in European and Japanese markets. Prograis explained, “This tournament is the perfect platform because whoever comes out is the best 140-pound fighter in the world. There are a lot of belts and titleholders and you might get three or four different answers about who’s the best. After this tournament, there won’t be any doubt!”
It might not look like it, given Terry Flanagan’s resume and miles on his boxing odometer, but Flanagan and Prograis are the same age. The 29-year-old Englishman has been contesting title fights for the last three years, with the majority going the championship distance. Despite moving up from lightweight, Flanagan will hold a one-and-a-half inch height and reach advantage. Exploiting those physical advantages is part of Flanagan’s game plan, as well as letting his experience dictate in what part of the ring the fight takes place, “The fans can expect me back at my best and giving Prograis a boxing lesson. He looks like a very dangerous fighter and I like his style but he has not boxed anyone like me before.”
Flanagan is not ignorant of the challenge that stands before him, telling the gathered press he understands the career cycle of boxers, as well as the scope of the opposition. Flanagan is not phased by the challenge before him, “I see the fight against Prograis as 50/50, with us both having our own strengths but I just think my assets stop his and therefore I win. I think what I bring to the table neutralizes his strengths and that is the difference. I expect to get the credit I duly deserve after winning this fight.”
While some see Flanagan as a boxer on the wrong side of a steep hill, the co-main eventer Ivan “The Beast” Baranchyk is viewed as a rising star. The 25-year-old Russian whirlwind does not lack self-assurance, ambition or ways of expressing himself verbally, “If you step into the ring against Ivan Baranchyk, just know you will never have an easy fight. I am a boxer with a warrior’s heart and mentality and I will fight till the last drop of blood, no matter what. On October 27, I will not only defeat Anthony Yigit; it will be an execution. I am ready to fight and I will win this belt (the vacant IBF junior welterweight title). I will show everyone that I am the best in the division.”
Baranchyk’s skill-set is based on an impressive work ethic and need for self-improvement, relying on focus and dedication that older generations claim are lacking in a then-pre-teen Baranchyk. He went on to win the Amateur World Junior Championships in 2009, besting two-time Olympic gold medalist Robeisy Ramirez in the process. The Ramirez victory and other good showings, at prestigious international competitions, caught the eyes of promoters. They focused on Baranchyk’s pro style, often leading with hooks instead of a jab. Baranchyk has authentic power in either hand and says he reined in that paralyzing power, over the last couple of outings, to focus more on accuracy and his boxing skills.
Tasked with stopping the Baranchyk runaway train is Swedish stylist Anthony Yigit. The reigning European champion sports the type of evasiveness and counterpunching abilities that could be hard for his Russian foe to unlock. Like Baranchyk, Yigit is in his physical prime, at 27, but enters with a less antagonistic attitude, in terms of boxing mentality, “I’m so happy all those hours in the gym, the discipline outside the gym and all the blood, sweat and tears finally are giving results. I believe there couldn’t have been a better time for me to fight at the world stage and I can’t wait to show all the boxing fans that I belong there.”
The Swede should not be intimidated by fighting on foreign shores, having defeated Danes, Englishmen and Germans on their home turf. Yigit looks forward to his American challenge after arriving three weeks early to get acclimated to his surroundings. After taking in the sights and sounds of New Orleans and watching tapes of Baranchyk, Yigit remains unfazed, “I know Baranchyk is a tough fighter but I believe I have the style to beat him. He charges forward relying on sheer strength to win and that’s not something I haven’t seen before, so I’m sure I’m going to be able to handle it. I think many people, Baranchyk included, are going to be surprised.”
The two WBSS bouts, as expected, given the quality of last year’s tourney, pit motivated boxers with a clearly established goal. Not only to win the one-of-a-kind Muhammad Ali Trophy but they are rewarded with escalated reputations, valuable rise in worldwide exposure and dramatically increased paychecks after each victory. There is a good possibility Oleksandr Usyk, who unified the four major cruiserweight title belts, wins most publications’ “Fighter of the Year” awards off the back of the WBSS platform. It is also a solid bet that the winner of this year’s WBSS bantamweight tourney, expected to come down to Naoya Inoue, WBO beltholder Zolani Tete or WBA titlist Ryan Burnett, takes home the 2019 Fighter of the Year plaque.
Those are encouraging signs for the future of DAZN and the WBSS tourney, a fantastic pairing which delivers big rewards for fans and boxers. How often can we say that about any boxing operation?