America’s top junior welterweight prospect Regis Prograis returns to the ring Saturday night to face Argentinian slugger Juan Jose Velasco. The 140-pound battle of undefeateds will decide which fighter gains entry into the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) eight-man junior welterweight tournament that begins in September.
Prograis (21-0, 18 KOs), 29, and Velasco (20-0, 12 KOs), 31, are scheduled for 12-rounds of action on the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card on July 14 (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 7 p.m. ET) at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans.
The junior welterweight division is fast-becoming a hotbed of supremely talented individuals. Lineal champion Mikey Garcia (per the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board) currently sits upon boxing’s ultimate 140-pound world title throne, but super prospect Prograis and Scottish phenom Josh Taylor combine with alphabet title holders Maurice Hooker (WBO), Kiryl Relikh (WBA) and Jose Ramirez (WBC) to form one of boxing’s most formidable divisions.
Prograis, a fast-handed southpaw from New Orleans, has vaulted up the professional boxing ranks the hard way after losing out on a berth to the 2012 U.S. Olympics team after a stellar 87-7 career as an amateur. Prograis told BoxingScene.com’s Thomas Gerbasi he had to fight for little to no money early in his boxing career, and that the experience propelled him to work harder than he ever thought possible:
“I was fighting on TV and still working jobs and struggling. I still remember those days of how hard it was for me. But I know there’s something always gonna be deep down inside me that’s going to push me over the top.”
Prograis has since become one of boxing’s hottest commodities. He’s ranked No. 1 at 140 pounds by Ring Magazine and No. 3 by the TBRB.
Velasco is a top performer in his home country of Argentina, but remains a relative unknown at the world level. While he’s undefeated in 20 professional fights, the quality of opposition he’s faced as a professional fighter suggests he lacks the talent and ability to be anything more than an opponent for fighters on their way up the world rankings.
An orthodox fighter, Velasco fights with good balance but doesn’t possess much power in his fists. While his hands are fast and fluid enough to compete against regional level opposition, fighting Prograis will challenge him in ways he’s never experienced.
Velasco is not a ranked contender according to either Ring Magazine or the TBRB.
A win over Prograis would vault Velasco’s career into the stratosphere and would lead him to divisional relevancy. If Velasco hopes to seriously compete with Prograis on Saturday night, he will need to carefully time his punches to land with maximum precision. Prograis is an excellent athlete, but he doesn’t move his head as much he does his hands so his defense suffers at times. Velasco will need to make the most of this flaw in order to make the fight competitive.
Prograis is a huge favorite per boxing’s top bookmakers with odds as high as -20000 at places like Karamba. Velasco at +1275 is a value pick if you think Prograis is overrated or if you believe it will be to the fighter’s detriment to work in front of a hometown crowd in New Orleans.
However, underdogs with limited power like Velasco aren’t usually considered good bets in the sport of boxing even if you truly believe the oddsmakers are wrong about the fight. Without the knockout, the probability of him doing enough to win seven or more rounds while also getting the nod from the ringside officials is virtually nonexistent in a sport mired with judging controversies and questionable commision practices.
Besides, the almost-30 years old Prograis is a huge talent poised to become the very best fighter he will ever be. Some observers already consider him the best junior welterweight in the world without a world title belt strapped around his waist, and a subset of those people even think he could become the man to dethone 140-pound king Garcia in the relative near future.
The most likely outcome of the fight is Prograis via decision or stoppage. The best odds coming from boxing’s top bookmakers that back Prograis for an outright win are at -5000 via 888Sport. WIth that kind of action, and virtually no options from bookmakers to bet on specific rounds, the only real value on the fight is calling the draw, which is improbable in this fight with all things considered.