Regis Prograis struggles to split-decision against Danielito Zorrilla, retains WBC 140-pound title
Regis Prograis labored to a split decision victory in his homecoming fight in New Orleans against Danielito Zorrilla on Saturday.
The WBC junior welterweight champion, who had long told anyone who would listen that he is one of the world’s two leading fighters at 140 pounds, struggled to convince in outpointing the Puerto Rican who accepted their fight with a month’s notice and perhaps even harmed his stock.
In the week after Teofimo Lopez was so convincing throughout a one-sided fight with Josh Taylor at the theatre at Madison Square Garden, Prograis had started to insist that he was the finest junior welterweight of all. Instead, on an occasion at the Smoothie King Center intended on showcasing his abilities ahead of a bigger fight against a higher-profile opponent, he was awarded victory via scores of 118-109, 113-114 and 117-110.
The most consistent theme of Prograis’ first fight in his home city in five years (and the first world-title fight in New Orleans in 23 years), even more than Zorrilla’s lack of ambition, was Prograis’ inability to cut off the ring. At his finest he is a both stylish and athletic fighter, but against an opponent determined to survive and remain on the back foot he quickly became frustrated and consistently struggled to close the distance between them.
Fighting for the first time since agreeing promotional terms with Matchroom, Prograis will know that having expected to fight Australia’s Liam Paro until a month ago will not have helped his preparations. He was regardless also fortunate that the referee Ray Corona ruled as a push the right hand from Zorrilla that dropped him in the opening round.
Prograis had hurt Zorrilla with a left when he in turn took a right, fell towards Zorrilla’s feet, reached his arms around him and pulled his challenger to the canvas in the process. Amid the uncertainty of what had just happened Corona missed that the champion, 34, had been knocked down, even if he then made a swift recovery.
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That he was more aggressive during the third after the uneventful second demonstrated that he had heeded the warning of what had happened. His smoother movement contributed to him landing a left hand on Zorrilla’s chin with little warning, and though he didn’t land cleanly the 29-year-old fell even more convincingly. When he returned to his feet Prograis attempted to force the stoppage by unloading on him in the corner, before showing both patience and his experience to back off when he realized Zorrilla wasn’t again about to fall.
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If Prograis partly did so because of a conviction he would have further opportunities to record a fifth successive stoppage – before that run he had lost to Taylor on points in 2019 – it was Zorrilla’s lack of conviction that ultimately most troubled him. His reluctance to engage and the success he was having in avoiding punishment on the back foot did little to discourage him from remaining there – and he was also rewarded for doing so every time Prograis threw a punch and fell short.
Prograis, similarly, was not helped by his reluctance to take risks after what should have counted as the fight’s first knockdown; the blend of styles between them in the latest clash of a southpaw fighting an orthodox opponent ultimately also harmed.
When in the sixth round he reached and landed with a left hand, closed the distance between them and let his hands go to Zorrilla’s body he would not have known his evening wouldn’t again be as positive. There were rare moments when he caught the eye – as comes naturally to a fighter with his ability – but none when Zorrilla appeared at risk of being stopped.
“The last two days I felt the hometown jitters,” said Prograis, speaking after a fight attended by 6,319 and with more swelling and bruising around his right eye than perhaps would have been expected. “The hometown fights are the worst – and I felt it going into it. I kept my belt and I’m happy for that but I’m not happy with the performance.
“Everybody you ever know is here. Dealing with tickets and so many different things – it will get to you.That’s a natural part of it.
“My last fight, when I fought [Jose] Zepeda [and won via 11th-round knockout in November], I felt like Zepeda was a way better fighter, and I fought in L.A. and I was way more comfortable. When I fought here in New Orleans the pressure gets to you.
“[Zorrilla] didn’t want to get knocked out and he came to survive. It was just like I was chasing him for 12 rounds.”
Bill Haney – the father, trainer and manager of the undisputed lightweight champion Devin – was ringside, and made little secret of the fact that, as with his presence at Taylor-Lopez, he was scouting Prograis ahead of his son’s potential move to 140 pounds. Prograis’ promoter Eddie Hearn revealed that he plans to meet Devin Haney in the coming week, when ahead of the fight between Edgar Berlanga and Jason Quigley they will both be in New York.
“When it happened I was like, ‘That was not a knockdown’,” responded Prograis when asked of being dropped in the opening round. “In the ring it didn’t feel like a knockdown at all.
“It looked like it [was a knockdown on the replay].
“[But] I wasn’t never hurt in the fight at all.”
Whether he believed that or not neither Ramla Ali nor Mark Davis could honestly say the same. Ali was knocked out in the eighth round of her undercard fight with Julissa Alejandra Guzman at super bantamweight, having already been knocked down in the fifth. Davis, fighting at lightweight against Jeremy Hill, was earlier stopped in the fourth.