Regis Prograis struggles to convince in defending WBC super lightweight title against Danielito Zorrilla

Regis Prograis laboured to a split decision victory on the occasion of his homecoming fight in New Orleans against Danielito Zorrilla.

The WBC super lightweight champion, who has long insisted that he is one of the world’s two leading fighters at 140lbs, struggled to convince in outpointing the Puerto Rican who accepted their fight with a month’s notice and in the process of doing so perhaps even harmed his stock.

In the week after Teofimo Lopez was so convincing in threatening to stop Josh Taylor at the theatre at Madison Square Garden, Prograis had started to insist that he was the finest active super lightweight of all. Instead, in front of 6,319 at the Smoothie King Center and ahead of the bigger fight that is expected against a higher-profile opponent, he was awarded victory via scores of 118-109, 113-114 and 117-110.

On the night of his first fight in his home city for five years and the first world-title fight in New Orleans in 23, even more than Zorrilla’s lack of ambition their fight was defined by Prograis’ inability to cut off the ring. He remains 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 not only judge the distance between them, but to close it.

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.

The champion 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. Amid the uncertainty of what had just happened Corona missed that the 34-year-old had been knocked down, even if he made a swift recovery. 

That he was more aggressive during the third after remaining cautious throughout the second demonstrated that he had recognised 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 Zorrilla 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 realised Zorrilla wasn’t again about to fall. 

If Prograis partly did so because of a conviction he would have further opportunities to record a fifth successive stoppage it was Zorrilla’s lack of conviction that then 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; 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 there were also occasional boos from the crowd that had showed up to support him, the dissatisfaction of the split decision, and none when Zorrilla appeared at risk of being stopped.