By: Oliver McManus
When the super lightweight draw for the World Boxing Super Series took place there was immediately one potential fight that piqued interest. Not an all-Belarusian clash between Ivan Baranchyk and Kiryl Relikh but Regis Prograis vs Josh Taylor; two of the hottest prospects in world boxing. Both men have worked their way to the final in superfluous fashion and picked up their first bona fide world title in the process. On Saturday night we’ll be treated to a mouthwatering fight with WBA, IBF and WBC ‘Diamond’ titles on the line.
The approaches to their careers have been noticeably different as both arrive with the full weight of momentum behind them. Prograis began his professional life boxing in local ‘convention centers’ in and around Texas and Houston as he looked to build on a solid, if unspectacular, amateur background. Having moved to Texas from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he boxed out of Savannah A.B.C and went 87-7 before turning over in 2012.
Photo Credit: World Boxing Super Series
Since then he has been developed incrementally with small steps along the way; there was no rush for Prograis, there was little in way of exterior expectation either. The 30 year old has taken on each challenge distinctly ‘over-prepared’ and has consistently looked a class above the opponents matched with him. From NABF junior to NABF and now as world champion, Prograis has been carefully, not cynically, maneuvered with great attention to detail.
Josh Taylor, on the other hand, has substantial amateur baggage following his every turn; a champion of the Commonwealth in 2014 and runner-up in 2010. As a result of the hype and hyperbole surrounding his career there has been a concerted effort from Cyclone Promotions to gatecrash the world scene as soon as possible. This plan was implemented with tough tests scattered across his 15 outings to date; Dave Ryan for the vacant Commonwealth title in his seventh bout; Ohara Davies in his tenth, to secure a world ranking and; Viktor Postol for his 13th fight.
Postol provided the gut check and Taylor emerged relatively unscathed. It was his first WBSS contest which stands out from a performance perspective. Ryan Martin stood in the opposite corner with a 22-0 record. He’d fought on big stages before, on Golovkin undercards, but was shrunk by the reception in Glasgow – Taylor could barely put a punch waywards. It was a schooling and The Tartan Tornado made Martin look like a pre-school tot.
In the ring they are both elite level combatants who are well-rounded in every respect. They can box from range, they can box in the pocket; they’re sturdy southpaws with strong technical knowledge and they can whack. Whoever wins will have fully deserved to lift The Ali Trophy in the knowledge that they took no shortcuts.
A healthy undercard sees Dereck Chisora take on David Price in what is officially labelled the ‘co-feature’. Price steps in as a late notice opponent after Joseph Parker withdrew due to a typically Kiwi downfall involving spiders. Whilst this contest is materialistically weaker it does pack intrigue. Indeed it’s one of those fights you wish had happened five, six years ago when the competitors were in full flourish rather than the final dawn of their career.
Chisora will be in his 41th contest and has recorded two victories in 2019 – a one paced shut-out over 10 against Senad Gashi and an explosive two-round trouncing over Artur Szpilka in July. Price’s last three victories, back to December 2018, have all been against fellow Brits with Tom Little, Kash Ali and Dave Allen failing to hear the final bell. The late-notice Liverpudlian will be a hearty underdog given his propensity to ‘get chinned’, as some would put it, and Chisora has the bit between his teeth. Price will, as he has always done, back himself to do the damage and get out before being dragged into warfire. There’s no guarantee how long the fight will last for but whilst it does it should be a slugger.
Ricky Burns and Lee Selby continue the all-British bouts with a scheduled 12 rounder in the lightweight division. Burns, a three weight world champion, defies his sporting seniority (aged 36) to churn out snappy performances on a regular basis. Since losing to Julius Indongo in 2017, a unification, he’s had three fights; a loss to Anthony Crolla and two sharp stoppages against Scott Cardle and Ivan Njegac.
Selby, four years younger, will be in his second contest at 140lbs after making the jump from super-feather at the beginning of the year. Against Omar Douglas, in February, the Welshman was dealt an awkward assignment with his American forcing Selby to adapt throughout the 12 rounds. He goes into the contest as a favourite but only just with Burns’ increasingly mature performances making him good value for the upset.
Continental success is on offer for Lawrence Okolie as he challenges EBU champion Yves Ngabu. Okolie, 13-0, has shaken off the ‘hugger’ reputation that precluded him in 2018 with three emphatic stoppage victories this year. Unlike stablemate Ted Cheeseman this European adventure comes after a significant period of domestic challenges; four victories over British fighters in title bouts. That extended experience should bode well and his awkward style will always pose questions.
He’ll be facing an experienced champion with Ngabu claiming the European title in 2017. His title reign has seen two stoppages – Tomas Lodi and Geoffrey Battelo the challengers – and a points win over Micki Nielson. For eight years Ngabu has been boxing professionally and his experience shows – he’s incredibly hard to bog down. There seems to always be a presumption when British fighters step up to European level that ‘they just will’ be successful; don’t count your chickens just yet.