Prograis-Zorrilla: The Week That Was

Wednesday June 14 

The last time New Orleans hosted a world title fight the great Roy Jones Jr was at his remarkable peak.

On that occasion, on September 9, 2000, Jones was making the latest defence of his IBF, WBA and WBO light-heavyweight titles at the New Orleans Arena, against Eric Harding.

Jones Jr, the finest fighter of his generation, was fighting in New Orleans 20 years after the finest of the previous generation, “Sugar” Ray Leonard, had done so against the similarly great Roberto Duran when beating him in their rematch at the Superdome.

Two years earlier Muhammad Ali, the finest of the generation before the Four Kings, recorded his final victory at the same venue in his rematch with Leon Spinks.

For the occasion of Regis Prograis’ first fight in his home city for five years, and first world title fight here, tickets for his defence of his WBC super lightweight title are still widely available.

That he is such a strong favourite against Danielito Zorrilla – the Puerto Rican who accepted Saturday’s fight at a month’s notice after an Achilles injury forced Liam Paro of Australia to withdraw – will have contributed. There is also the reality that the undercard is not particularly appealing, and that in the US late rushes to buy tickets are common. Eddie Hearn, whose organisation Matchroom are promoting Saturday’s fight, may have been able to help had he been arriving in the city before Wednesday evening.

In an attempt to publicise Saturday’s fight, Prograis on Monday evening ran through the French Quarter in downtown New Orleans with some of his local supporters. On Tuesday, he and Zorrilla were scheduled to face off outside of the Smoothie King Center, where on Saturday they will fight, but had to do so inside because of the torrential rain.

Both fighters made themselves available to DAZN and the media on Wednesday; on Thursday is their final press conference, and on Friday they weigh-in. By way of comparison, ahead of last week’s more appealing fight between Josh Taylor and Teofimo Lopez – which eventually sold out at the theatre at New York’s Madison Square Garden – beyond time with broadcasters Sky Sports and ESPN, the two fighters were only committed to a press conference on the Thursday and Friday’s weigh-in. There had been minor pockets of media access earlier in the week.

The schedule for a big fight week in Vegas typically involves grand arrivals on the Tuesday, a public workout on the Wednesday, a press conference on the Thursday, and a public weigh-in on the Friday. If New Orleans is to regularly stage boxing again, more of Prograis’ supporters will have to invest in tickets.

Thursday June 15 

Regis Prograis twice betrayed a sense of frustration at the final press conference ahead of the homecoming fight with Danielito Zorrilla that is at risk of proving anticlimactic.

Numerous tickets are still for sale at the unfortunately named Smoothie King Center. Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn, who is promoting a fight in The Big Easy for the first time, is overseeing one of Prograis’ fights for the first time since tempting him to sign for Matchroom over Top Rank on the promise of him regularly fighting in the home city of which he is so proud.

Prograis last fought in New Orleans in 2018, when he defeated Terry Flanagan. Saturday’s fight is his first here as a world champion, and represents the first world-title fight in the city the great Roy Jones Jr – based three hours away in Pensacola, Florida – defeated Eric Harding in in September 2000.

The New Orleans Pelicans being in their off-season also means Prograis has little, in a sporting context, to compete with, and yet Hearn, told he can expect a crowd in the region of 8,000 on Saturday, is expecting closer to 6,000.

When conducting interviews on Wednesday, after some filming with broadcasters DAZN, Prograis, inevitably, had been asked about one divisional rival in Teofimo Lopez defeating another in Josh Taylor last weekend. At Thursday’s press conference, unprompted, and speaking with a sense of weariness, not anger, he said: “All the reporters, stop asking me about all these other fighters. Fuck [Devin] Haney. Fuck Teo [Lopez]. Fuck Josh Taylor. Fuck Adrien Broner. Right now, it’s about me, and this is my show, and Saturday night, [Zorrilla] gonna get his ass whooped.”

The brooding Puerto Rican with the intense stare, through his inability to speak English, sat alongside him untroubled. More troubled will have been Prograis’ experienced public relations assistant Bernie Bahrmasel, who was been working hard to portray everything related to Saturday’s fight in the most positive possible light. Matchroom, aware that boxing is rarely king – particularly in the US – are significantly less troubled. Incidentally, the press release they later distributed led on their fighter discussing Taylor-Lopez.

“The best fighter in the division,” Prograis later continued, at the conclusion of the same press conference. “I’m going to go out there and have fun. I’m thankful for Matchroom; thankful for Eddie for seeing the dream; seeing the vision.

“If y’all don’t know they have tickets as low as $20. People don’t know they have tickets as low as $20. Everybody thinks it’s going to be real expensive but they do have tickets as low as $20.

“I can’t wait:”

Friday June 16 

Before Regis Prograis walked on stage to be weighed in on Friday afternoon one of his associates stole the limelight by beating him there while wearing an expensive, customised Rougarou body suit.

Followers of Prograis will recognise “Rougarou” as his nickname, but in this context more relevant is that the Rougarou is a symbol of Prograis’ appreciation of Cajun folklore and, more specifically, the tales of the beast said to have the body of a man and the head of a wolf or dog while haunting Louisiana’s vast wetlands looking for misbehaving children.

Inside the Rougarou body suit, bringing it to life, was one “Thomas”, who made it upon Prograis’ request, for – according to those close to Prograis – in excess of $40,000. The same Thomas came to Prograis’ attention because he had designed the Problem Bot (which ProBox TV had never previously heard of) associated with the lamentable Jake Paul. A quick search on Google suggests that the Thomas in question is Thomas DePetrillo of Extreme Costumes. That it was the most unexpected complement to a weigh-in seen by ProBox TV since Frank Maloney hired dwarves to attend one ahead of a David Price fight when Price was the world’s Next Heavyweight Champion is perhaps irrelevant. Anytime one of the Pauls’ influence can be detected in boxing circles is of considerably greater concern.

It transpires that the 34-year-old Prograis and four of his closest friends refer to themselves as “The Wolf Pack”, in recognition of a friendship group that has existed for 26 years and counting. Splash, Buddy, Dank and Primo are the other four; all were also present when their friend weighed-in.

One who was not present, and who is also not expected by Matchroom to be present come fight night, is the great Miguel Cotto, Danielito Zorrilla’s promoter. Zorrilla, 29, accepted Saturday’s fight at a month’s notice. That his promoter and fellow Puerto Rican is not in New Orleans to support him – Prograis’, Eddie Hearn, was wearing a New Orleans-branded jumper – is perhaps a reflection of how little he is expected to win.

Saturday June 17 

The WBC super lightweight title fight between Regis Prograis and Danielito Zorrilla, at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, didn’t live up to expectations.

It was regardless far from the worst fight on the Matchroom and DAZN bill. That instead unfolded over 12 rounds at welterweight between Shakhram Giyasov and Harold Calderon – which perhaps stood out only because Giyasov had “Wonder Boy” emblazoned across his shorts and Calderon had an even bigger “King”. The biggest cheer from the 6,319 present came when it was announced that Wonder Boy and King were entering the “12th and final round” – a reflection of how almost all of those 6,319 wanted it to be over, and little else.

Bill Haney, the father, trainer and manager of the undisputed lightweight champion Devin, was among those in town and, asked why, he told ProBox TV: “I’ve got a warrant on Regis Prograis.” The great Roy Jones Jr, the victor the last time, in September 2000, New Orleans hosted a world-title fight, was also present. Jones Jr is based three hours away in Pensacola, Florida; on that night 23 years ago he beat Eric Harding inside the distance to retain the IBF, WBA and WBO light-heavyweight titles.

It is to be hoped that both enjoyed their evenings more than David Diamante, the master of ceremonies. After an uncomfortably lengthy pause in the middle of him announcing the timing of Jeremy Hill’s stoppage of Mark Davis, which suggested that he hadn’t been ready to make that announcement when he started, he also guaranteed that there would be none of the suspense typically favoured when announcing the scores for Giyasov-Calderon by revealing, each time, that the score had been in Giyasov’s favour. More common, in the case of a unanimous decision, is for the three scores to be announced first, and then finally the victor. Diamante, clearly, was in little mood for fun and games.

As is customary for a world-title fight, the national anthems of both fighters – in this case Puerto Rico’s and America’s – were played in the minutes before they made their way to the ring. While it was refreshing that – unlike in the UK, where the national anthem of the non-British fighter is almost guaranteed to be booed – the crowd in New Orleans respectfully observed Puerto Rico’s, there was little question that the promotion lost something by the music simply being played from an audio file over the speakers, instead of complemented by a singer from inside the ring.

Incidentally, the uncertainty over whether or not Prograis had been knocked down in the opening round led to ProBox TV seeking a second opinion via the live blog of DAZN News. When replays showed that there was little question that he had been dropped and that the referee Ray Corona had missed it – it is perhaps fortunate it wasn’t a close fight – ProBox TV felt little choice but to award that round 10-8 in Zorrilla’s favour. DAZN News, however, reported: “Prograis gets dropped. The ref calls it a push but it’s the highlight of a round that Prograis is lucky to win. 10-9 Prograis.” While agreeing that Prograis had been lucky, ProBox TV remained confused about how anyone – even at an organisation so closely aligned with Prograis’ promoters Matchroom – could acknowledge what had happened and still scored the round in his favour.

Diamante; Prograis; Corona; DAZN News; Giyasov; Calderon. It was a night of off-nights.