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The Travelin’ Man goes to Deadwood…and San Antonio: Part two

Regis Prograis talks to Showtime's Steve Farhood after winning the interim WBC 140-pound title. Photo / Stephanie Trapp-SHOWTIME
23
Mar

Please click here to read Part One.

 

Friday, March 9 (continued): At the top of the “ShoBox” telecast, analyst Steve Farhood said the following: “The question we used to ask about Regis Prograis was, ‘Is he special?’ I think the question some of us are asking now is ‘How special is he?’”

After his electrifying second round knockout over recent two-belt champion Julius Indongo, my answer is a single word: “Very.”



From the first time I saw him fight live two-and-a-half years ago against Amos Cowart, in Atlantic City, I realized Prograis’ fusion of speed, power, technique and ring intelligence was far above that of other prospects with just 14 fights under their belts. The numbers Prograis produced that night were beyond spectacular: 113.6 punches and 20.3 landed jabs per round, connect gaps of 381-129 overall, 162-35 jabs and 219-94 power and percentage margins of 42%-28% overall, 30%-19% jabs and 60%-34% power. His 32 landed jabs in round four is the fifth-highest total ever recorded by CompuBox in a 140-pound fight and his 381 total connects in eight rounds just missed the Top 10 list that consists of fights lasting 10 rounds or more. The punishment he inflicted was such that he essentially ruined the previously unbeaten Florida southpaw. Eleven months later, in September 2016, Cowart lost a lopsided eight-round decision to Nick DeLomba at Foxwoods and hasn’t fought since.

Since then, Prograis proved his performance against Cowart was no fluke. Every time the level of competition was stepped up, Prograis stepped up his game even more. Four months later, in his adopted hometown of Houston, he pounded the ultra-tough Abel Ramos into an eighth round TKO and, like the Cowart match, the numbers were terrific (218-78 overall, 174-56 power and a 53%-28% power shot gap). In the final three rounds, Prograis out-landed Ramos 126-24 overall and 116-18 power, a beating that could have led to Ramos’ ruination. Although he subsequently lost to Ivan Baranchyk in a riveting slugfest, he knocked out his other four other opponents, including the 13-0 Dario Ferman (TKO 5) and the 15-2-1 Emmanuel Robles (TKO 6) in his most recent fight.

When critics questioned his lack of one-punch pop, Prograis answered with a quartet of early-round stoppages against Aaron Herrera (KO 1), Luis Eduardo Florez (TKO 4), Wilfrido Buelvas (KO 1) and Joel Diaz Jr. (TKO 2), who, at 23-0, was billed as Prograis’ toughest opponent yet. Against Diaz, Prograis unleashed a succession of left crosses that registered four second round knockdowns against the extremely aggressive Diaz (who averaged 83 punches per round) and capped a fight in which he landed 62% of his power punches.

Entering the Indongo fight, however, Prograis faced several adversities. First, he was coming off a career-long 273-day layoff. Second he had problems making weight as he was over the limit by 0.4 pounds the first time he stepped on the scale. While he managed to wring out the weight before his second trip to the scale, one had to wonder what effect the effort would have on him. Finally there was Indongo, a lanky left-hander whose jab-heavy style and timely power punching was a poisonous mix for all but undefeated two-division champion Terence Crawford, the BWAA Fighter of the Year in 2014 and a fixture at the top of the pound-for-pound ratings.

 

 

So how did Prograis respond to this trio of troubles?

The answer: By destroying Indongo in even less time than Crawford did.

“Crawford knocked him out in the third; I got him out in the second,” Prograis said after the bout. “I had to come make a statement. The 140-pound division is mine; there’s nobody there that can mess with me. They know that.”

As Indongo jabbed and moved throughout most of round one, Prograis stalked, patiently closed the space between them and, once he established that perfect distance, thanks to his head movement and precise body punching, he fired a shotgun jab that sent the Namibian stumbling back toward the ropes. From that point forward, Indongo’s legs appeared wooden and Prograis capitalized by scoring a knockdown with another power jab just before the bell, capping a round in which Prograis led 17-15 in total connects, landed 41% of his jabs (9 of 22 to Indongo’s 3 of 16) and connected on a higher percentage of his power punches (38%-30%), despite trailing 12-8 in raw connects.

Given his late-round power burst, it would have been understandable if Prograis had chosen to immediately press his advantage, at the start of round two. That he didn’t was telling; in other fights, this could be construed as a negative but, here, it was confirmation that, at 29, he possessed the strategic patience to work his way inside and set up his next set of pyrotechnics. Once again preceded by body shots – 22 of his 29 power connects in the fight were to the flanks – Prograis scored the final three knockdowns with his last three punches, within a 36-second span. Referee Ian John Lewis gave Indongo every chance to turn the tide but, by then, that tide had turned into an unstoppable tsunami.

The second round saw Prograis land 29 of his 51 punches (57%), 8 of his 18 jabs (44%) and 21 of his 33 power punches (64%), while limiting Indongo to 27% overall (17 of 64), 22% jabs (5 of 23) and 29% power (12 of 41). Because Indongo out-threw Prograis 120-94 overall and 81-54 power in the fight, the final numerical gaps were closer than the action inside the ring (46-32 overall, 17-8 jabs, 29-24 power). The real indicator of Prograis’ control could be found in his accuracy gaps of 49%-27% overall, 43%-21% jabs and 54%-30% power. While the body shots and power lefts deserved the spotlight, Prograis’ precise jabbing helped him get inside Indongo’s albatross-like reach and helped position him to land those draining body punches.

Prograis said after the fight that he wanted the public to see the full range of his talent, including his ring IQ. That he did.

With Crawford campaigning at welterweight, Prograis not only has thrown down the gauntlet to the other 140-pounders who will follow him over the next several weeks; he has spiked it. Prograis also proved himself market-savvy by announcing he would be at ringside to witness at least two of the upcoming contests: Tomorrow night’s bout between IBF titlist Sergey Lipinets and Mikey Garcia, in San Antonio, and the match for the “full” WBC belt between Jose Carlos Ramirez and Amir Imam, at Madison Square Garden. That quartet – as well as the rest of the men in the mix – will be hard-pressed to duplicate, much less exceed, what Prograis did against Indongo.

I have counted five of Prograis’ last seven fights and, each time, he has been scintillating. Like Crawford before him, Prograis has maintained his level of dominance, even after his degree of difficulty was raised. Above all others, this is the marker one can point to in terms of judging whether a fighter could become elite.

On March 16, I will mark the 44th anniversary of the “thunderbolt moment” that made me a boxing fan – the second fight between Roberto Duran and Esteban DeJesus – and, in that time, I’ve seen prospects come and go. Veteran observers can tell whether a hopeful has that indefinable quality called “it,” that separates him or her from the herd. My eyes, and the numbers recorded through those eyes, tell me that Prograis has “it” and will have “it” for some time to come.

*

 

One of those fighters in the 140-pound herd is Ivan Baranchyk, another warrior whose career I have chronicled through the ShoBox series. As has been the case with Prograis, I have been ringside for five of Baranchyk’s last seven fights but, while he has won all of them, he showed signs that he was nearing his ceiling as a fighter. While Prograis sailed through his competition, Baranchyk was forced to overcome adversities that normally shouldn’t occur during the record-building process: Eye gashes, knockdowns and, in the case of his 10-round decision win over Abel Ramos, toe-to-toe wars with numbers rivaling that of the first Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti fight.

Following his points win over spoiling southpaw Keenan Smith last July, Baranchyk, like Prograis, began what would become the longest layoff of his career – 238 days. In that time, he hired renowned Cuban trainer Pedro Diaz, Baranchyk’s fourth chief second in his last five fights. Diaz’s objective was to tighten Baranchyk’s leaky defense without sacrificing his high-octane offense. In his last four CompuBox-tracked fights against Wang Zhimin, Wilberth Lopez, Ramos and Smith, Baranchyk out-landed his opponents by five punches per round (22.6 vs. 17.6) but while he connected with 45% of his power punches, he absorbed 38% of his opponents’ hooks, crosses and uppercuts, a concerning number.

 

Photo by Stephanie Trapp – Showtime

 

If Baranchyk’s eighth round TKO over Petr Petrov is any indicator, Diaz did his job and did it well. While Baranchyk still threw every punch with the intent to decapitate, the arcs were tighter and he connected with his usual accuracy in every phase. His jab, always an underrated weapon, was immense, as he landed it 8.1 times per round (well above the 4.7 junior welterweight norm) and did so with 31% accuracy, far beyond the 19.3% average. Not only that, a jab – Baranchyk’s first punch of the fight – set the tone by scoring a knockdown.

His average output against Petrov was marginally lower (59.3 per round compared to 60.7 in his previous four tracked fights) but the improvement in his defensive numbers was stunning – 27% overall, 23% jabs and 30% power compared to 31%, 23% and 38% in his previous four. Better yet, Baranchyk left the ring with no cuts, no knockdowns suffered and no sense that he was anything but in control of himself and of his surroundings. Make no mistake, Petrov did his best to dislodge Baranchyk, especially in rounds four and five, in which he trailed just 46-44 overall and 28-26 power, while tying at 18 landed jabs, but Baranchyk’s strength, power and poise proved too daunting. Petrov suffered a second knockdown in round two, when his glove touched down amid a Baranchyk flurry and he incurred a third from an overhand right to the ear in round six. After Petrov slumped into the ropes, following yet another volley of power shots, referee Mark Nelson stepped in and stopped the contest.

The final numbers reflected Baranchyk’s dominance, as well as Petrov’s bravery and competitiveness – connect leads of 159-118 overall, 65-42 jabs and 94-76 power as well as percentage gaps of 36%-27% overall, 31%-23% jabs and 41%-30% power. Both men targeted the head, as Baranchyk landed just 27 body shots to Petrov’s 22.

The improvement Baranchyk showed in this fight has caused me to reassess the state of his career. Under Diaz, he not only showed a willingness to improve his game but he actually followed through with those improvements, especially on defense. At 25, he is still young enough to make further adjustments that could lift him into the higher rungs of the sport. Is he ready for the best? Not yet. But unlike after his difficulties against Zhimin, Lopez, Ramos and Smith, I see a path that will result in bigger fights, more lucrative contests and his share of wins in those fights.

*

 

As was the case with Prograis against Cowart and Baranchyk versus Shadi Shawareb in December 2015, heavyweight Junior Fa couldn’t have asked for a better ShoBox debut than his 67-second knockout over Fred Latham last November. He looked far better than the paint-by-numbers fighter I saw on video before that fight as he maneuvered “Fast Freddie” to the corner pad, then finished him off with flurries whose speed defied its owner’s 262 pounds. The finish served to whet appetites, in terms of what he might achieve in his next fight.

One notable achievement was his weight against tonight’s foe, Craig Lewis – a career-low 256 ½. That’s five-and-a-half pounds lighter than was the case against Latham and 23 ¼ pounds less than for his second most recent bout against Hunter Sam in May 2017. Here, his 6-foot-5 frame looked noticeably fitter and it was proof the 28-year-old wanted to rectify one of his most preventable flaws.

 

 

As for the fight itself, Fa won a wider-than-reality eight-round unanimous decision (79-74 and 79-73 by Juan Carlos Pelayo and Benoit Roussel respectively and a more reasonable 76-76 by Ray Danseco) that proved the New Zealander remains a work in progress. After firing a fight-high 53 punches in round one, Fa’s pace slowed to a pedestrian 32.3 the rest of the way, allowing Lewis to get back into the fight. In rounds five through eight, Lewis led 50-45 overall to close the final gap to just 82-81 overall, thanks to his superior jabbing (52 of 175, 30% to Fa’s 35 of 151, 23%). However Fa’s forward movement and better power numbers (47 of 128, 37% to Lewis’ 29 of 122, 24%) paved the way to victory.

The round-by-round breakdowns indicated a competitive match, as Lewis prevailed 5-3 in overall connects and 6-2 in landed jabs, while Fa pounded out a decisive 7-1 lead in power connects. Also, Lewis’ punch distribution was far more aggressive than was the case in his lone pro loss against Demetrius Banks. Against Banks, the jab made up 86.1% of his total output and 80.7% of his total connects but, against Fa, it comprised 58.9% of his total output (175 of 297) and 64.2% of his overall connects (52 of 81). To borrow a phrase coined by fellow scribe Steve Kim, Lewis provided enough “professional resistance” to press Fa but not enough to upend him.

*

 

For me, the early ending of Prograis-Indongo was most welcome because it opened up the possibility of getting in a somewhat longer nap (two-and-a-half hours) before having to begin my journey to San Antonio.

 

Saturday, March 10: I felt surprisingly good, as I arose at 1:45 a.m. and even better after finishing the morning routines. Upon exiting the hotel, I was confronted with challenging conditions – blowing snow and a temperature in the low-30s. The goal was to arrive at the airport by 4 a.m. in order to catch my 6 a.m. flight to Dallas-Fort Worth and, if all went well, I then would board a 10:28 a.m. bird to San Antonio that would hopefully get me to the crew hotel by 12:30 p.m. – my call time to the arena.

It was a good thing I had given myself plenty of time to get to Rapid City, for the snow combined with the wet roads, bad lighting and severe undulations made for challenging driving. Thankfully my phone traced a route dominated by Interstate 90 and the weather and lighting improved, as I approached the airport. After stopping at a Pilot gas station to top off the rental’s gas tank, I arrived at the Avis parking lot shortly after 4. Once I filled out the Avis forms and dropped the keys into the slot, I headed upstairs in anticipation of going through security and settling into my gate. Instead, the access gate to the security line was closed. An employee at a nearby deli told me the gate would remain closed until the police finished their morning sweep, which turned out to be at 4:30.

It isn’t often that I am the first passenger to be screened at an airport on a given day but that was the case here. A bonus: Once I arrived at the gate, I chose the one seat that was situated next to a phone charging station, which, since my phone was nearing the 20% mark, was most welcome.

Coincidentally ring announcer Ray Flores and I would be taking the same two flights to San Antonio and, thanks to his extraordinary travel schedule, he was assigned the first seat in the first row on both flights. Maybe I should start calling him “Front Row Ray.”

I had planned to rest my eyes further during the 90-minute flight to Dallas-Fort Worth but those plans were scuttled the moment I realized I was sitting across the aisle from Evins Tobler, Prograis’ strength and conditioning coach. Few things in life energize me more than high-quality boxing talk and that certainly happened here. Once the aircraft landed in Dallas, I met up with Ray, who told me, according to his phone app, that our connecting gate was at C-36. But after we rode the Skylink and arrived there, the monitor read that it was handling a flight to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. One look at a nearby flight monitor revealed our actual gate was A-14, so Ray and I returned to Skylink and arrived at our proper gate with 14 minutes to spare.

This time, I spent the entire flight resting my eyes and, by the time I landed in San Antonio, I felt good enough to tell punch-counting colleague Dennis Allen, CompuBox president Bob Canobbio and Sports Media’s Jeremy Thelen (my ride to the Freeman Coliseum), via text, that I would be ready to go to the venue as soon as I check into my room and drop off my clothes bag. We left the hotel around 1:15 and were at the venue about 15 minutes later, after which the pre-fight checks were completed.

Although I watched the first two fights of this marathon 14-fight card – which began at 4 p.m. and saw San Antonio southpaw/pro debutant junior bantamweight Robert Rodriguez outpoint Giovanni Noriega over four rounds and cruiserweight Efetobor Apochi stop Darrius Flowers in two – the crew meal caused me to miss the next three bouts (Efe Ajagba KO 1 Antonio Johnson, Eimantas Stanionis TKO 4 Hector Munoz and Yulian Tembotov UD 4 Noe Lozano).

Three more fights unfolded before Dennis and I began our work day – Luis Coria UD 4 Nery Garcia, Alejandro Guerrero TKO 1 Philip Adyaka and Xavier Wilson UD 4 John Vanmeter, the robbery of the night as the 1-3 Vanmeter lost to the 7-0 Wilson, despite scoring a knockdown and appearing to win at least one more round.

Tonight’s show is actually two – a maximum of three fights on Showtime Extreme, then, after a break, the two-fight Showtime Championship Boxing card.

I couldn’t have asked for a better card, in terms of pulsating action. Richard Commey’s spectacular sixth round TKO over Alejandro Luna in their IBF lightweight title eliminator was called by more than one person the greatest fight ever aired on Showtime Extreme, while San Antonio junior welterweight Mario Barrios remained unbeaten with a crushing second round stoppage of Eudy Bernardo.

The numbers for Commey-Luna reflected the two-way action that took place inside the ring, as the Ghanaian used a 21-7 surge in the final round, to seize a 119-111 lead in overall connects, as well as percentage gaps of 39%-34% overall and 45%-42% power. One huge contrast between the two was the body-head ratio; while 76 of Luna’s 111 total connects were to the body, 81 of Commey’s 119 total connects struck the head. Despite the closeness of the stats, judges Chris Flores and Jesse Reyes saw Commey a decisive 49-46 winner, while veteran jurist Glen Hamada turned in a more modest 48-47 score for Commey, who was celebrating his 31st birthday.

The last time Bernardo was on Showtime’s air, he was victimized by one of 2016’s most explosive knockouts at the hands of the then-undefeated Mason Menard, who knocked him unconscious in round three. Since then, Bernardo has gone 2-1, thanks to a pair of one-round knockouts in his native Dominican Republic but fighting the 20-0 Barrios in his hometown of San Antonio proved too big a hurdle to clear. This time, Bernardo was crushed in round two, closing out a fight in which Barrios led 27-8 overall, 12-7 jabs and 15-1 power, as well as 31%-15% overall, 21%-16% jabs and 47%-9% power.

But as impressive as Barrios was statistically, junior featherweight Brandon Figueroa was even more so, as his buzz-saw attack battered Giovanni Delgado into a seventh round TKO. While Figueroa threw 85 punches in round one (landing 30) to Delgado’s meager 4 of 30, no one could have predicted the statistical onslaught that followed in rounds two through six. In that span, Figueroa landed 229 punches to Delgado’s 59, including a 191-53 gap in landed power shots. In the third round alone, Figueroa fired 176 punches.

For the fight, which belatedly ended at 1:55 of round seven, Figueroa averaged an incredible 128 punches per round to Figueroa’s 45.9 and led 267-64 overall, 50-7 jabs and 217-57 power, as well as 31%-21% overall, 15%-11% jabs and 42%-24% power. Look for more potential CompuBox records from Figueroa, whose 72 power connects in round one versus Oldier Landin in June 2016 ranks second all-time at 122, behind Juan Manuel Lopez’s 84 in round eight against Gerry Penalosa in April 2009.

Recording Figueroa’s lights-out volume was the perfect way to get my adrenaline going for the doubleheader to come: The rematch between Rances Barthelemy and Kiryl Relikh for the vacant WBA junior welterweight belt and the main event between IBF junior welterweight king Sergey Lipinets and three-division champion Mikey Garcia. For me, the start of the broadcast couldn’t come soon enough.

*

 

Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 15 writing awards, including 12 in the last seven years and two first-place awards since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics (available on Amazon)” and the co-author of the upcoming book “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers.” To contact Groves, use the email [email protected]

 

 

 

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