Righteous progress for Regis Prograis
One of the most exciting aspects of boxing is the possibility of two undefeated prospects clashing inside a ring, with the winner announcing himself as a legitimate title threat. That will be the case when Regis Prograis, 19-0 (16), faces Joel Diaz Jr., 23-0 (19), in a High Noon junior welterweight showdown of sorts between two gunslingers with KO ratios in the 80th percentile. This is made all the better when one fighter seemingly boasts star potential like Prograis, which is not to diminish or cast a slight on Diaz, who probably enters the ring with a slightly higher ring IQ. However, Prograis has that indefinable “it factor,” which Showtime has mined to great success through its outstanding series “ShoBox: The New Generation.” Tomorrow night, Showtime rides into town celebrating Hall of Fame Weekend 2017, at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, New York, only minutes from the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, with a telecast (10:30 p.m. ET/PT) hopes to feature a future Hall-of-Famer in the main event.
This will be the 28-year-old Prograis’ fourth appearance on ShoBox, a good sign, as 67 boxers have graduated to world titleholder status from the challenging series. In his last two performances on that difficult canvas, Prograis scored a first round stoppage of veteran war horse Aaron Herrera, followed by a comprehensive dismantling of Abel Ramos over eight rounds. Also halted the undefeated streaks of two other prospects on the series but Prograis believes he has not given a complete display of his arsenal to ShoBox fans, “I feel I haven’t been able to show everyone everything I am capable of. I have shown bits and pieces but I haven’t had a fight in which I put it all together.”
In all honestly, I was not enamored by Prograis initially because he came to boxing late at age 17. I am of the firm belief that boxers who grow up in the sport are imbued with special abilities via osmosis. The “athletes” who come to boxing from other sports don’t have this gift, often the case with heavyweights who crumble the first time things go wrong and their physical capacities are put in check by superior boxers. However, Prograis’ reflexes and intuition are excellent, which make up for any muscle memory he may lack matriculating up the ranks. The southpaw sports a solid amateur pedigree and has not shrunk in the face of bright lights on ShoBox previously. A lanky and tightly wound 5-foot-8, with a 67-inch reach and aggressive nature, he has gotten much attention, thanks to a good push from promoter Lou DiBella. Prograis has improved with every viewing and his back story surviving hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans is inspirational.
That harsh life lesson may be why, at times, in my opinion, Prograis tries too hard attempting to accomplish the impossible by incorporating two favorite boxers Roberto Duran and Mike Tyson into his style at once. After Hurricane Katrina, Prograis’ family moved too many times to count but that led to the life-changing positive of walking into Houston’s Savannah Boxing Gym (Prograis now fights out of the Main Street Gym), where the young man found his calling. Once there, Prograis was surrounded in his new home by champions like Guillermo Rigondeaux, Erislandy Lara, Kermit Cintron and Evander Holyfield. He learned well, impeccably using his reach to pressure foes who may think they are out of reach, though his jab just seems to unfurl to whatever length necessary. That, in turn, forces opponents’ reactions into other, bigger punches. Has an uncanny ability to maneuver foes on the ropes or in the corner, where Prograis’ combination punching takes over, as opponents cover up.
A tattoo-clad Prograis enters the fight on a roll, having notched 12 knockouts in his last 13 outings, and says he will unleash an inner “Rougarou” (a werewolf-like creature of Louisiana folklore) that is becoming his ring persona, as well as nickname. Prograis admits, “This is a crossroads fight for me. I am ranked number four by the WBC and fifth by THE RING (Magazine) at 140 pounds. I have worked hard to get here and I am on a hunt for the title belts. Diaz is standing in the way of my ultimate objective and I know that I must defeat him to get where I want to be. He needs to get past me to move onto the next level himself, so I am sure he is equally motivated. That is what makes for great fights.” Prograis also proclaimed he is ready to go a full 10 rounds for the first time if need be.
Manning the guns in the opposite corner is a Joel Diaz Jr., who is not new to ShoBox either, displaying a varied package of skills, defeating fellow prospect Tyler Asselstine in his ShoBox debut, three years ago. This will be 25-year-old Diaz’s third appearance and, in the Asselstine win, he called upon his outstanding 85-10 amateur pedigree to befuddle and frustrate the psychically stronger Canadian. Diaz is coming into his own, a maturation that had Diaz winning all of his appearances by stoppage in 2016. It has given Diaz a palpable sense of self-assurance and poise, “I am honored to be back on Showtime and am thankful for the opportunity. On June 9, I will be more than ready to hand Regis Prograis his first defeat. ShoBox fans are in for a treat as this will be a thriller while it lasts. When the smoke clears, I know that I will be the one left standing.”
Diaz has good reason to be confident, being a well-rounded West Coast boxer who is not as tantalizing as Prograis but does everything extremely well, and by the book, progressing through the extremely tough California amateur system. Watching him work, it’s apparent that Diaz has an inner clock that knows when and for how long to push advantages. Like Prograis, is a lanky type, stands 5-foot-8 tall with a 68-inch reach, with deceptive defensive skills based on the judging of distance instead of speedy reflexes. Diaz‘s counters are not blinding but thoughtful in their execution that he punctuates with strong and straight right hands. Will not knock a foe out with one punch but their sting gains respect quickly and earns Diaz room to work his angles.
This matchup, on paper, should be a very entertaining affair for boxing connoisseurs or a channel-surfer who happens upon the fight, as big punches are flying. Both men own winning mentalities, with Prograis having the bigger upside physically, while Diaz has shown a more complete boxing brain, to this point. I lean toward Prograis, who, despite his late start in boxing, looks more mature than Diaz, at this time, and sports a superior athletic dimension. For Diaz to win, he must get an early lead and break Prograis down mentally more than physically, overwhelming him with punch selection and angles. I would not count the loser (depending on how emphatic the victory is) out, in terms of a future title shot, either, given their victories to date and the level of their opponent tonight. It could just be a temporary setback.
This is another in a long line of intriguing main events for the acclaimed ShoBox telecasts. The victor should be pleased with the Showtime exposure, since wins on the ShoBox platform are good predictors of future success. The series has fashioned nearly 70 world titleholders, presenting a solid mix of styles like Ricky Hatton, Andre Ward, Deontay Wilder, Erislandy Lara, Paul Williams and Guillermo Rigondeaux, from its inception in 2001. The winner is likely to be elevated to mandatory contender status – Prograis is already rated No. 4 by the WBC – within the year or gain enough network favor to accelerate a title shot. Gordon Hall, ShoBox Executive Producer and Senior Vice President of Production for Showtime Sports, is excited about the entire card that compliments the Hall of Fame weekend, “When you add four fighters with only one loss between them in a quintessential ShoBox card, it just doesn’t get much better than that.”